The United States is welcoming voluntary actions from firms around the world to cut business ties with Iran, building on fresh sanctions imposed on the country's controversial nuclear program by the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.
A top U.S. official, Stuart Levey of the Treasury Department, told a Senate panel on Tuesday that an "unprecedented effort" has been taken to share information with firms all over the world about Iran's activities.
He says that because of the effort, firms worldwide have decided to change the way they do business. "'Virtually all major financial institutions have either completely cut off or dramatically reduced their ties with Iran," said Levey. "We are now starting to see other companies, across a range of sectors including insurance, consulting, energy and manufacturing making similar decisions."
The U.N. Security Council recently imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, which Western countries suspect is aimed at building weapons - a charge Tehran denies.
The administration last week slapped its own new penalties. And, the European Union last week imposed its own sanctions against Iran.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat John Kerry, voiced deep concern about Iran's activities. "This is as critical an issue as we could face. The potential of a nation securing a nuclear weapon when it behaves as outside of the norm of international behavior as Iran has chosen to behave raises serious national security concerns, not just for the United States but for many other countries," he said.
Lawmakers, including the top Republican on the committee, Richard Lugar, had similar concerns. "Iran represents a direct threat to United States national security, as well as to the security of Israel and that of our other friends in the region, has long provided material and financial support to terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip," he said.
A top State Department official, Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, told the panel that what appeared to be a "constructive beginning" in talks last year in Geneva, was shunned by Iran, with the country taking a whole new set of provocative actions.
"Iran pursued a clandestine enrichment facility near Qom, announced plans for 10 new enrichment facilities, flatly refused to continue discussions with the P5 plus one about international concerns about its nuclear program, provocatively expanded enrichment to near 20 percent in further violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and drew new rebukes from the IAEA in the director general's most recent report a few weeks ago," he said.
While lawmakers expressed frustration that previous actions against Iran have failed to stop Iran's controversial nuclear activities, both Democrats and Republicans endorsed legislation to further tighten U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.