WASHINGTON – New U.S. sanctions have broadened the front in the West’s escalating economic conflict with Iran, targeting large swaths of the country’s industrial infrastructure even as Iranian leaders are indicating a willingness to resume negotiations on the country’s nuclear program.
With Iran’s economy already reeling from previous sanctions, the new measures passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last week are intended to deliver powerful blows against key industries ranging from shipping and ports-management to the government-controlled news media, congressional officials and economic experts say.
While some previous U.S. sanctions targeted individuals and firms linked to Iran’s nuclear industry, the new policies are closer to a true trade embargo, designed to systematically attack and undercut Iran’s major financial pillars and threaten the country with economic collapse, the officials say.
“This is effectively blacklisting whole sectors of the Iranian economy,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, a think tank. “The goal is to create a chilling effect on all nonhumanitarian commercial trade with Iran.”
By broadening the focus to entire industries, the new effort is intended to make it harder for Iran to evade sanctions through front operations, a time-honored practice in the Islamic republic, said Dubowitz, author of several studies on sanctions policy.
“It was a game of Whac-a-Mole that the United States could never win,” he said.
The tightening of the economic noose comes amid new signs that Iran may be ready to resume negotiations with the United States and other world powers on possible limits to its nuclear program. Tehran’s top nuclear negotiator said Friday that his government had agreed to new talks that would likely take place this month, although the date and location remained unclear.
Iranian officials in recent weeks have been unusually candid in acknowledging the extraordinary toll of Western sanctions on the country’s economy. The country’s currency has shed more than 40 percent of its value since August, while exports of petroleum — Iran’s chief source of hard currency — have fallen by half.
But Iran has refused so far to accept significant cuts in its nuclear program, prompting a race by Congress to find even more painful measures. The latest package of sanctions drew rare bipartisan backing in both house of Congress, despite initial qualms by Obama administration officials who feared that some of the sanctions would harm allied governments and undermine support for what has been a largely successful international effort to isolate Iran.