Obama: Sanctions send 'an unmistakable message' to Iran

President Barack Obama hailed sanctions on Iran approved Wednesday by the United Nations Security Council, while key lawmakers said they would move forward with harsher penalties intended to punish the Iranian regime.

Obama lauded the Security Council’s move to vote “overwhelmingly” for stronger sanctions on Iran, which he described as the “most comprehensive” that nation has faced.

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Turkey and Brazil were the only two members of the Security Council to vote against the sanctions, with Lebanon abstaining. In a diplomatic triumph for Obama, permanent Security Council members Russia and China supported the U.S.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the resolution was a “powerful statement of opposition by the international community” to Iran’s nuclear program and a critical step in strengthening sanctions intended to convince Iran to suspend its program.

The step is expected to lead to tougher sanctions from the U.S. and European Union, and Berman pledged to move forward with legislation later this month.

“We now look to the European Union and other key nations that share our deep concern about Iran’s nuclear intentions to build on the Security Council resolution by imposing tougher national measures that will deepen Iran’s isolation and, hopefully, bring the Iranian leadership to its senses,” Berman said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also voiced support for unilateral sanctions.

“A nuclear Iran is simply unacceptable, and Congress will soon move forward on Iran sanctions legislation targeted at Iran’s petroleum industry,” she said in a statement.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday said he did not know if the administration was still seeking a delay in unilateral sanctions from Congress.

While he stressed that the sanctions “do not close the door on diplomacy,” Obama said the action sends “an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.”

“Actions do have consequences,” Obama said. “And today the Iranian government will face some of those consequences.”

The comments disappointed groups opposed to unilateral U.S. sanctions.


 “It’s clear from Mr. Berman’s statement today … that far from breathing room for the president, the Congress will now move quickly to act unilaterally on top of the U.N. sanctions,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council.

Reinsch’s group supports multilateral efforts, but argues unilateral sanctions hurt U.S. companies while doing little to restrain behavior by the sanctioned regime.

“I wish they’d take a deep breath before they do that, but it doesn’t sound like they will,” he said.

The sanctions approved by the Security Council include increased scrutiny of cargo going into and out of Iran, a ban on certain conventional weapons trading or selling with Iran and a ban on Iranian efforts to invest in “sensitive nuclear activities abroad.”

The resolution also restates U.N. demands that Iran stop enriching uranium.

The House and Senate have both approved bills that would place sanctions on companies that sell gasoline to Iran or help that country’s petroleum business.

The legislation would also prevent foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies from doing business with Iranian oil companies.

Business groups are lobbying for some changes to the legislation, which they see as punishing for U.S. business since it could prevent American companies from trading with firms that have any ties to Iran’s petroleum sector.

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A study by the National Association of Manufacturers estimates there could be a $25 billion drop in revenue from U.S exports as well as 210,000 jobs lost if the bill becomes law.

In a May 3 letter, the chief lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the legislation could force U.S. aircraft manufacturers to lose credit financing, disrupt insurance for U.S. businesses and stop U.S. oil companies from exploring for energy resources around the world.

Speaking in the White House Diplomatic Room, Obama said the U.S. “will ensure that these sanctions are vigorously enforced,” but cautioned that penalties will not likely result in immediate Iranian compliance.

“We know that the Iranian government will not change its behavior overnight,” Obama said.

The White House pointed out that the new sanctions complement Obama’s diplomatic approach to Iran, and that Resolution 1929 “builds on three previous rounds of U.N. sanctions on Iran by strengthening and expanding existing measures and breaking ground in several new areas.”

“It is a clear and strong response to Iran’s refusal to address international concerns over its nuclear program,” the White House said.

The resolution “increases the cost to Iran’s leadership of their continued defiance of the international community, and aims to persuade Iran that it is in its interest to peacefully resolve concerns about its nuclear program.”

The White House said it will continue to work with its international partners to “forge a peaceful solution,” but it warned that Iran must demonstrate a willingness to meet its international obligations.

“The United States remains open to dialogue, but Iran must live up to its obligations and clearly demonstrate to the international community the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities,” a White House release said.

The White House dismissed the Security Council’s two nay votes — Turkey’s and Brazil’s — saying they were not surprising since the two countries have been pursuing a different approach to Iran. Gibbs said the absence of a unanimous vote does nothing to obscure the message to Iran.

“Sixteen months ago, when the president took office, the resolution that was passed today could not have passed the United Nations Security Council,” Gibbs said. “We would not have gotten Russia. We would not have gotten China.

“Look, people can debate 12 votes, 15 votes, whatever. The bottom line is there is a greater sanctions regime on the government in Iran today than there was yesterday — than there has been at any other point,” Gibbs said.

This story was originally posted at 11:48 AM and updated at 1:40 p.m. and 8:42 p.m.

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