White House spokesman Jay Carney agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that sanctions have negatively impacted Iran’s economy but appear to have had no affect on the Islamic regime’s drive for nuclear weapons.
Iran has “yet to make the choice it needs to make, which is to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions,” Carney said. “We completely agree with the prime minister’s assessment that Iran has failed to make that choice and that is absolutely a disappointment.”
Speaking at a press conference with visiting US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu said: “You recently said that sanctions on Iran are having a big impact on the Iranian economy. And that is correct. And I am sure that the recent sanctions advanced by the president and the congress will have an even greater impact on the Iranian economy. But unfortunately, it’s also true that neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet have any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
In another statement of agreement with the Israeli prime minister, Carney added that sanctions were having “a significant effect on the Iranian economy.”
Discussions over the effectiveness of international sanctions on Iran came as the US House of Representatives debated the implementation of a fresh round, closing in on the goal of imposing new penalties on Iran before the August Congressional recess.
The measure was expected to be approved by the House and Senate later in the day or Thursday before being sent to the White House for the president’s signature.
The new bill provides for sanctions on anyone who invests in Iran’s oil or natural gas sector, who provides refined petroleum products to Iran, who joins in energy ventures with Iran or who transports Iranian crude oil, closing several existing loopholes.
The White House imposed another set of sanctions on its own, adding penalties for foreign banks who deal with Iran and sanctioning a Chinese bank for doing business with the Iranian oil industry.
Iran has been able to circumvent many of the sanctions through the use of shell companies that are regularly set up to sell oil and import needed goods. But there is no doubt that the Iranian people are hurting as a result of the sanctions, with runaway inflation and the scarcity of some necessities a constant for ordinary citizens. The regime leadership has framed the economic problems as “Iran against the West” — a tactic that doesn’t appear to be working well. Ordinary Iranians are angry at the government and took it out on President Ahmadinejad in parliamentary elections last May.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and confirmed that the US will not allow Iran to “develop” a nuclear weapon:
I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regards to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period,” he said. “We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.
While the administration agrees with Netanyahu about the lack of success of the sanctions in slowing down the Iranian drive for the bomb, it doesn’t mean they agree with the Israelis regarding what to do about it. The Israelis see a red line where the Iranians would have the capability to build a weapon. The Obama administration would act only if Iran actually had the bomb or appeared to be near in getting one. It’s the difference between “developing” a bomb” and Iran being capable of building one — that might mean months or years difference between the two sides.
So the administration agreeing with Netanyahu isn’t that significant except that it buttresses Israel’s position regarding the failure of the sanctions to affect Iran’s efforts at getting the bomb. Netanyahu’s statement is not exactly a war warning because the toughest sanctions haven’t been imposed yet — cutting off Iranian access to finished petroleum products like gasoline and kerosene. But the prime minister’s statement was a warning to the West that his patience has its limits and that Israel will act in its own interests if the Iranians acquire the capability to construct a nuclear weapon.