The United States said Thursday it backs "appropriately timed" sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
"The Obama administration strongly supports increasing the pressure on Iran," the US under secretary of state for political affairs, Wendy Sherman, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"And that includes properly designed and well targeted sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran, appropriately timed as part of a carefully phased and sustainable policy toward bringing about Iranian compliance of its obligations."
Sherman and other US officials said there is a way to target the CBI but it should occur in a multilateral context.
The Treasury Department's David Cohen told the committee that the administration backed France which last month called on its international partners to impose a freeze of Iran's central bank assets and an oil embargo.
"It is more important than ever that we work together with the international community to increase the financial pressure on Iran, including through an effective, well-designed, well-targeted strategy to further isolate the Central Bank of Iran," Cohen said.
"We welcome French President (Nicolas) Sarkozy's call last week for a multilateral assets freeze on the CBI," he said.
"We recognize that coordinated and focused action against the CBI could have a particularly powerful impact on Iran's access to the international financial system and its ability to access the hard currency it earns from oil sales," he said.
We "welcome the opportunity to continue to work with Congress" on such sanctions, he said.
"The key to achieving this goal is to bring together a coalition to work in concert to reduce exposure to the CBI and to Iranian oil exports," he said.
"Now more than ever, it is imperative that we act in a way that does not threaten to fracture the international coalition of nations committed to the dual track approach," he said.
He added that it is important that any action taken must "not inadvertently redound to Iran's economic benefit, and brings serious and lasting pressure to bear on Iran."
The dual-track approach is one where the international community offers to diplomatic engagement if Iran agrees to cooperate on curbing its nuclear program or imposes sanctions if it continues its defiance.
Officials in the administration said last month it was weighing sanctions against the Central Bank but said it must tread carefully to avoid handing Tehran unintended gains or alienating young Iranians.
The US Treasury Department's point-man on sanctions, Adam Szubin, told a House of Representatives committee that Washington was not yet ready to act, as officials studied the proposal to ensure it does not result in a rise in the price of oil, which would boost Iran's cash reserves.
by Claire Rosemberg
(c) 2011 AFP
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