Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks as Treasury Secretary… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais,…)
Reporting from Washington — The Obama administration slapped Iran with a new round of sanctions for its alleged nuclear and terrorist activities, but stopped short of the tough economic punishments favored by many in Congress.
In an announcement coordinated with Britain and Canada, U.S. officials said they were imposing new punishments aimed at Iran's petrochemical sector and organizations involved in the country's nuclear program or terrorism, such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force. U.S. officials say the Quds Force has a long history of sponsoring terrorist acts abroad, that it supplies arms and training to insurgents who have killed American troops in Iraq and that it carries out covert operations, including assassinations.
The most damaging new step will be a move to identify Iran as a source of "primary money-laundering concern." Officials hope the move will prompt many international companies to break off business with Iran for fear of damaging their own reputations.
Yet while the administration added another layer to the many existing punishments aimed at isolating Tehran's economy from the world, officials stopped short of imposing full sanctions on Iran's central bank.
Officials fear that such a step, by making it hard for countries to buy oil from Iran, could constrict world oil supply, drive up oil prices and threaten the fragile global economy.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the sanctions did not go far enough.
"The U.S. and our allies should be imposing stronger sanctions from every possible angle in order to make the pressure crippling, including additional, more effective sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran," she said in a statement.
The money-laundering designation was likely to cause companies that want to remain in good standing with the U.S. to halt transactions with Iran. But some analysts believe it may not be enough to persuade key Iranian trading partners that care less about their ties to the U.S. economy, including many in Russia, China, Turkey and Kuwait.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, noted that the money-laundering designation does not call for specific penalties for companies that continue to do business with Iran.
The administration's hesitation on the banking front underscored the limitations of how much further it can go to try to halt Iran's nuclear program. Administration officials have also signaled their reluctance to use force against Iran at a moment when they are trying to wind down wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The new sanctions were in reaction to two developments: a recent report from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog showing that Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program is advancing apace, and the disclosure of an alleged Iranian plot to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States.
"There have to be consequences for such behavior," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in formally announcing the new sanctions at the State Department.
She said Iran has been unwilling to negotiate over its nuclear program, despite broad international disapproval, or to halt what U.S. officials maintain is the most active state-supported terrorism program in the world.
"The message is clear: If Iran's intransigence continues, it will face increasing pressure and isolation," Clinton said.
Britain announced that it was barring all contacts between British companies and Iran's central bank, and Canada said it was also taking steps to halt its companies from doing business with Tehran.
The United Nations has already imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran, and the United States and many other countries have crafted their own national punishments as well.
But while the Obama administration has boasted that its steps, including the tough round imposed last year, are the harshest taken by any administration, they have not yet been enough to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program.