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White House Welcomes Tightened EU Sanctions on Iran, Syria

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (file photo)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (file photo)

The White House on Thursday welcomed new steps by the European Union to tighten sanctions on Iran and Syria.

The latest steps by the EU expand the list of members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps banned from doing business with EU countries, or receiving visas to travel there.

They stop short of any decision to halt oil purchases from Iran to further increase pressure over Tehran's nuclear program or its policies in the region, despite expectations that this week's mob attack on Britain's embassy in Iran would prompt stronger steps.

The White House issued a statement welcoming the EU action, as well as new steps against 12 officials and 11 entities in Syria, where the United Nations says more than 4,000 people have died in government crackdowns on protesters.

"We welcome today’s announcement by the European Union of new economic sanctions and other measures against both Iran and Syria. The United States recently increased our own sanctions on Iran, and today announced additional actions against Syrian officials and entities," said Press Secretary Jay Carney.

The wording of Thursday's statement was notable in that it reflects the Obama administration approach of more frequently coupling Iranian actions with the situation in Syria.

It spoke of a commitment to work together on "shared challenges" and coordination to increrase pressure on Iran and Syria to "ensure that their flagrant violations of international norms comes to an end."

The U.S. has said President Bashar al-Assad has "lost legitimacy" and should end all government-sanctioned violence against demonstrators and help pave the way for a democratic transition for the Syrian people.

Carney was asked by one reporter if a key objective of Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Turkey was to ask for more help from the government in Ankara on Iran.

The president's spokesman had no immediate response on that, but repeated a largely unchanged U.S. statement about Washington's overall positive assessment of international cooperation aimed at pressuring Tehran.

"Broadly on Iran, we have been very focused on and pleased by the international consensus that has been developed over these several years to sanction Iran, to pressure and isolate Iran, and that continues today," Carney said.

During a U.S. Senate hearing Thursday, the Obama administration came under additional pressure from lawmakers who believe the U.S. needs to take stronger steps against Iran.

Treasury and State Department officials told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the administration is committed to putting "sustained pressure" on Iran, but multilateral measures need to be a priority now.

David Cohen, Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said a bipartisan amendment to ban U.S. companies from doing business with any foreign financial institution connected with Iran's central bank could harm international coordination aimed at stepping up pressure on Tehran.