U.S. Moves to Tighten Sanctions against Iran ; Any Financial Institutions Receiving Tehran's Money Are to Be Blacklisted

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The new measures target Iran's oil and petrochemical sectors as well as its shipping trade, intensifying sanctions intended to choke off the revenue that Iran reaps from its two largest exports.

The White House and Congress have raced to impose more punishing sanctions against Iran as its nuclear ambitions have resurfaced in the presidential campaign after Mitt Romney's pledge to give Israel unstinting support in its confrontation with Iran.

A new set of measures announced on Tuesday, which are directed at Iran's oil and petrochemical sectors as well as its shipping trade, intensify existing sanctions intended to choke off the revenue that Iran reaps from its two largest export industries.

While the latest steps do not represent a huge leap in pressure, they address a potential weakness in the continuing effort: Iran's adroit maneuvering to circumvent sanctions by selling its oil through foreign banks or for alternative means of payment, like gold.

The flurry of activity on Capitol Hill and at the White House reflects both diplomatic and domestic political calculations. Negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program are at a standstill after several months, leaving many lawmakers frustrated and administration officials conceding that the pressure campaign has not persuaded Iran's leaders to change course.

Election-year politics have also supercharged the political atmosphere, with Mr. Romney, the Republican challenger, suggesting during a weekend visit to Israel that he would take a far tougher line against Iran than President Barack Obama. These latest sanctions, like previous measures against Iran, have drawn lopsided bipartisan support in Congress.

Even though the White House measures were announced just days after Mr. Romney's comments in Israel, officials said they had nothing to do with Mr. Romney's statements. Both the administration's and congressional sanctions have been in the works for months. Campaign officials also said that for all his criticism, Mr. Romney's prescriptions for dealing with Tehran did not differ much from the president's.

"Romney likes to sound tougher on Iran, but when you really delve into the specifics, there's not a lot of difference there from what the administration has done or is already doing," said Colin H. Kahl, a former Pentagon official who is an adviser to the Obama campaign. "A lot of this is Romney describing our current policy and masquerading it as criticism of the president."

A Romney spokesman, Ryan Williams, said after the sanctions were announced that Mr. Obama's reluctance to confront Iran "has imperiled our allies and jeopardized our national security." He also cited Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the diplomatic efforts had not made an "iota" of difference in Iranian behavior.

On Wednesday, the U.S. defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, making his own visit to Israel, said Iran must negotiate acceptable limits on its nuclear program or face the possibility of U.S. military action to stop it from getting the bomb, The Associated Press reported. Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, standing beside Mr. Panetta, said he saw an "extremely low" probability that sanctions would ever compel Iran to give up its nuclear activities.

Later Wednesday, in an appearance with Mr. Panetta, Mr. Netanyahu said U.S. statements of solidarity with Israel and its assurances that military strikes were still an option were not working to convince Iran that the West is "serious about stopping them" from developing nuclear weapons. …


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