Iran General NewsU.S. set to raise pressure on Iran

U.S. set to raise pressure on Iran

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Wall Street Journal: The Obama administration plans to use an upcoming United Nations report to rally international support for significantly ratcheting up economic and diplomatic pressure against Iran, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal

By CAROL E. LEE and JAY SOLOMON

The Obama administration plans to use an upcoming United Nations report to rally international support for significantly ratcheting up economic and diplomatic pressure against Iran, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, scheduled to be released next week, is expected to make the most specific charges to date that Tehran has sought to develop technologies used in producing nuclear weapons, according to diplomats briefed on the report.

Iran has denied the charges, and China and Russia are seeking to tone down the language of the report.

“If they continue to be outside their obligations and the report demonstrates that, we’ll look for ways to increase the pressure on them. That could include sanctions. That could include diplomatic efforts,” a senior administration official said on Thursday. “There’s a range of additional steps that could be taken against Iranian companies, against Iranian entities. We’ll look at all the options that we have to increase their economic and political isolation.”

U.S. officials are considering, among other options, a full sanctioning of the Central Bank of Iran. But that move is considered risky because it could drive up oil prices in the midst of fragility in the global economy.

“There have certainly been discussions about the possibility of sanctioning the Central Bank,” the official said. “But there are ways to pursue targeted action against the Iranian financial sector, banking sector and to continue to dial up those pressures, and those are things that we’re looking at as well.”

In coming weeks, President Barack Obama will use the IAEA report’s release to lobby the international community to pursue new economic penalties on Iran. He will specifically take advantage of a trip to Asia this month to press his case to the leaders of Russia and China, the official said, noting: “He’ll have a chance to review with them our response to this report and to discuss the best way forward.”

Recent IAEA reports have stated the agency’s concerns that Iran has been experimenting in developing nuclear warheads and the long-range missiles to deliver them. The coming report could make these charges more explicit, said diplomats.

Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The Obama administration’s recent accusations of an Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. could help strengthen Mr. Obama’s hand as he tries to persuade other leaders to agree to pursue stronger action against Tehran. Officials said tighter sanctions and political pressure could be applied by the U.S. alone or in coordination with other nations. They also said international organizations, such as the U.N., could take political steps to isolate Iran.

Mr. Obama, who is in the French Riviera this week for a meeting of the Group of 20 industrialized nations, discussed the upcoming IAEA report on Thursday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. After their meeting, Mr. Obama said the two leaders “agreed on the need to maintain the unprecedented international pressure on Iran to meet its obligations.”

Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, said the report’s release “will be another important point for the international community to again assess whether or not Iran is meeting those obligations.”

“We, of course, don’t believe that they are,” Mr. Rhodes said. “So we’ll have to be continuing to build out the pressure on the Iranian government.”

Administration officials played down speculation that the U.S. is weighing a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, saying the U.S. is focused on a diplomatic strategy.

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