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White House opposed new Senate sanctions against Iran: Report

The White House was reportedly opposed to a new round of sanctions against Iran that the Senate approved in its latest efforts to mount economic pressure on the Islamic Republic.

On Thursday night, US senators voted 94-0 to a new round of sanctions against Iran’s energy, port, shipping and shipbuilding sectors in an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and its chief Ezzatollah Zarghami are also the target of the new bans.

Under the new rules, the United States would sanction anyone selling or supplying certain commodities to Iran — including graphite, aluminum, steel, and some industrial software — that are relevant to the country’s shipbuilding and nuclear sectors.

The sanctions were again imposed based on the unsubstantiated claim that Iran is progressing towards the production of a nuclear bomb, an allegation Tehran has vehemently rejected.

“The window is closing. The time for the waiting game is over. Yes, our sanctions are having a demonstrable effect on the Iranian economy, but Iran is still working just as hard to develop nuclear weapons,” said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the authors of the package.

A report published by Foreign Policy on Friday, however, reveals that the White House was totally against the new measure and conveyed its message to senators through its National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor hours before the amendment was passed.

“As we focus with our partners on effectively implementing these efforts, we believe additional authorities now threaten to undercut these efforts,” Vietor said.

“We also have concerns with some of the formulations as currently drafted in the text and want to work through them with our congressional partners to make the law more effective and consistent with the current sanctions law to ensure we don’t undercut our success to date,” he added.

An e-mail sent from the White House to several Senate Democrats on Thursday evening mentions in detail the overriding concerns of the administration about the new sanctions, the report said.

One of the concerns, according to the e-mail, is that the approved measure would tie the hands of the administration in the possible talks with Iran in which Washington may consider the option of delaying the application of the embargoes or negating them.

The e-mail also argues that the sanctions should only target those persons who are involved in Iran’s missile and nuclear programs, an issue the Senate has overlooked in its latest move.

Under the new rules, the White House would be required to report to the Congress about thousands of ships and boats which dock at Iranian ports as well as dozens of Iranian planes which land in airports across the world every day, a burdensome task for “the Intelligence Community and sanctions officers,” regarding time.

Comments made by a senior GOP Senate aide further lays bare the discrepancy between the approaches of the White House and lawmakers, in particular the Republicans who are at loggerheads with President Obama over major issues, regarding the sanctions on Iran.

The aide, whose name was not given in the report, accuses the administration of trying “to block or water down those sanctions at every move” in a “comprehensive and unrelenting campaign” while “the US Congress continues to lead a comprehensive and unrelenting international sanctions program” against Iran.

“We [lawmakers] beat them 100-0 last year and while they tried to kill this amendment more quietly this time, we beat them again 94-0. Hopefully House and Senate negotiators will stay strong and resist the administration’s strategy to dilute these sanctions in conference.”

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