The Obama administration is readying sanctions against discrete elements of the Iranian government, including those involved in the deadly crackdown on Iranian protesters, marking a shift to a more aggressive U.S. posture toward the Islamic republic, U.S. officials said.
Ten months after President Obama set a year-end deadline for Iran to engage with world powers on its nuclear program, the government in Tehran has failed to respond in kind, other than an abortive gesture in the fall.
Now, in what may be a difficult balancing act, officials say the administration wants to carefully target sanctions to avoid alienating the Iranian public — while keeping the door ajar to a resolution of the struggle over Iran’s nuclear program. The aim of any sanctions is to force the Tehran government to the negotiating table, rather than to punish it for either its apparent push to develop a nuclear weapon or its treatment of its people.
“We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy,” said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame.”
As a result, top officials show little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran. “Sanctions would not be an alternative to engagement,” another senior official said. “Our intention is to keep the door open.”