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
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
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. …