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Experts Tell Congress Sanctions are Isolating Iran

The US Capitol, at sunrise (File)

The US Capitol, at sunrise (File)

Senior Obama administration officials told the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Wednesday that international sanctions on Iran are having an effect. The officials said most Western countries and Japan have decreased trade with and investment in Iran, and that the country is increasingly isolated from the international financial system.

The committee chairman, Democrat Howard Berman, commended President Barack Obama for pursuing international sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Berman said the president's efforts are paying off, with many countries having curtailed their sale of refined petroleum to Iran.

But the committee's ranking Republican member, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said the United States and the international community have been patient with Iran and its nuclear ambitions for too long.

"For over 14 years, since the passing of the Iran Sanctions Act, only one determination of sanctionable activity has ever been made, and the resulting penalties were immediately waved," she said.

Ros-Lehtinen did praise tough sanctions on Iran passed by Congress several months ago, saying they may have had a real impact.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns offered a positive view of the sanctions.

"In recent months working closely together - the administration, Congress and our international partners have put in place the strongest and most comprehensive set of sanctions that the Islamic Republic of Iran has ever faced," said Burns. "It is a set of measures that we are determined to implement fully and aggressively. It is a set of measures that is already producing tangible results. And it is a set of measures that reinforces our collective resolve to hold Iran to its international obligations."

Stuart Levey, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, agreed that sanctions are working. Levey said major firms from different economic sectors around the world are severing their business ties with Iran, and that the country has been virtually isolated from the international financial system.

"There are clear signs that the speed, scope and impact of sanctions have caught the Iranian regime by surprise," said Levey.

Several representatives at the hearing raised concerns about China's continued investment in and trade with Iran. Some lawmakers also cited Turkey and Venezuela - two other countries that have publicly supported Iranian leaders and their policies.

The congressional hearing on the effectiveness of the sanctions comes only days ahead of a meeting in Geneva on Iran's nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he is sending his top nuclear negotiator to next week's talks with a European-led group that includes the United States, China and Russia. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.