President Barack Obama has signed into law legislation approved by Congress to impose tough new unilateral sanctions on Iran's government for its defiance of international demands to change course on its nuclear program.
The law is designed to place more pressure on Iran's government by imposing penalties on companies helping the Iranian energy sector, with a focus on gasoline and other refined petroleum products.
It also targets Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corp, with a provision prohibiting U.S. banks from doing business with foreign banks providing services to the Revolutionary Guard.
The president was joined by key Democrats and Republicans in Congress who supported the bill, with 99 to zero and 408 to 8 margins in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Saying this was not a day the U.S. sought, he said the Iranian government chose the outcome when it repeatedly failed to meet its responsibilities. "With these sanctions, along with others, we are striking at the heart of the Iranian government's ability to fund and develop its nuclear programs. We are showing the Iranian government that its actions have consequences. And if it persists, the pressure will continue to mount, and its isolation will continue to deepen. There should be no doubt-the United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," he said.
It's the latest of steps by the U.S., United Nations Security Council, European Union and other individual nations to persuade the Iranian government to change course and comply with non-proliferation obligations and demands for full disclosure from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
With U.S. companies already banned from trade with and investment in Iran, the new law also targets foreign companies, going beyond the U.N. Security Council and European actions.
Iran has consistently denied its nuclear program, including its construction of thousands of additional centrifuges in recent years, is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Before President Obama signed the sanctions bill, his press secretary Robert Gibbs said the new law and other global actions constitute progress, though they do not necessarily guarantee results. "None of this stuff is a silver bullet [a sure solution] but all of it continues to make progress to give what we believe is far more than sufficient incentive to start to comply," he said.
President Obama still faces pressure from Congress to move forward quickly to put provisions of the law into effect.
House Republicans have urged the president not to use waiver authority granted to him in the legislation, saying a number of foreign companies had already been motivated by the prospect of new sanctions to begin to terminate commercial relationships with Iran.
Mr. Obama could decide to waive sanctions against any company for 12 months on a case-by-case basis, as necessary for national security interests, if the firm is from a country cooperating with multilateral efforts to isolate Iran.
The law gives state and local governments legal authorities to avoid lawsuits for divesting from companies invested in Iran's energy sector. It also bans persons complicit in human rights violations from receiving a U.S. visa, and bars companies supplying Iran's government with communications technology used to restrict freedom of speech from receiving U.S. government contracts.
President Obama said the sanctions send an unmistakable message that the U.S. stands with the Iranian people as they seek to exercise their universal rights.
He again left the door open for a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Tehran over its nuclear program. "The door to diplomacy is still open. Iran can prove that its intentions are peaceful. It can meet its obligations under the NPT(Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and achieve the security and prosperity worthy of a great nation. It can have confidence in the Iranian people and allow their rights to flourish," he said.
The president said the U.S. continues to hope that Iran's government chooses this path, but that the United States remains clear-eyed about the difficult challenges ahead.