The New York Times reports: President Obama is pressing United Nations nuclear inspectors to release classified intelligence information showing that Iran is designing and experimenting with nuclear weapons technology. The president’s push is part of a larger American effort to further isolate and increase pressure on Iran after accusing it of a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.
If the United Nations’ watchdog group agrees to publicize the evidence, including new data from recent months, it would almost certainly revive a debate that has been dormant during the Arab Spring about how aggressively the United States and its allies, including Israel, should move to halt Iran’s suspected weapons program.
Over the longer term, several senior Obama administration officials said in interviews, they are mulling a ban on financial transactions with Iran’s central bank — a move that has been opposed by China and other Asian nations. Also being considered is an expansion of the ban on the purchase of petroleum products sold by companies controlled by the country’s elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The Revolutionary Guards are also believed to oversee the military side of the nuclear program, and they are the parent of the Quds Force, which Washington has accused of directing the assassination plot.
The proposed sanctions come as administration officials confront skepticism around the world about their allegations that Iran was behind the plot and limited options about what they can do — as well as growing pressure from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress to take tougher action against Iran, with the central bank and the oil industry high on lawmakers’ lists.
All of the proposed sanctions carry with them considerable political and economic risks. Yukiya Amano, the cautious director general of the United Nations group, the International Atomic Energy Agency, talked publicly in September about publishing some of the most delicate data suggesting Iran worked on nuclear triggers and warheads. But officials who have spoken with him say he is concerned that his inspectors could be ejected from Iran, shutting the best, though narrow, window into its nuclear activities.
Similarly, China and Russia, among other major Iranian trading partners, have resisted further oil and financial sanctions, saying the goal of isolating Iran is a poor strategy. Even inside the Obama administration, some officials say they fear any crackdown on Iranian oil exports could drive up oil prices when the United States and European economies are weak. As one senior official put it, “You don’t want to tip the U.S. into a downturn just to punish the Iranians.”