Obama toughens banking sanctions on Iran

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama is toughening U.S. economic sanctions on the Iranian theocracy.

The new clampdown carries some risks is that it could further spike oil prices amid worldwide shortages.

Gas prices are already near a record high, hampering Obama’s campaign plans. The sanctions could, however, dampen the slow-motion crisis caused by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons and its repeated promises to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Israel’s government sees the Iranian bomb program and calls for war as mortal threats, and is debating whether to wreck Iran’s nuclear bases. An Israeli attack, however, would likely spark an Iranian reaction, perhaps further spiking gas prices.

Iran, which has attacked Israel for decades via its proxy forces like the Hezbollah force in Lebanon, has refused to curb its nuclear program.

White House officials, including Obama, have pressed Israel not to use force to defend itself, arguing that the sanctions will eventually work.

The White House did little to slow Iran’s nuclear development program in 2009 and 2010 and did not support a wave of street protests in 2010. (RELATED: Full coverage of the Obama presidency)

Friday’s sanctions announcement comes less than a week after Obama showed willingness to cooperate with the country’s Russian antagonists.

Since Obama’s “flexibility” remarks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was captured on video, GOP activists have portrayed the president as weak on defense and as an inadequate international advocate for the United States.

Friday’s step is a declaration by the president that enough non-Iranian oil supplies exist to allow oil-related sanctions to be imposed against Iran’s central bank.

“There is a sufficient supply of petroleum and petroleum products from countries other than Iran to permit a significant reduction in the volume of petroleum and petroleum products purchased from Iran by or through foreign financial institutions,” said the one-page statement released today at 1:37 p.m.

The sanctions deny Iran’s government and companies, and Iran’s overseas customers, access to the influential and extensive U.S. banking system and marketplace.

“It is our belief that these sanctions are having a significant impact … they present the strongest pressure we have to date,” said a White House official.

Non-oil-related sanctions began Feb. 29.

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