Washington: A congressional deadline for the Obama administration to begin enforcing new financial penalties on foreign firms that do business with Iran passed with no fresh action from Washington.
While some congressional authors of a bill President Barack Obama signed December 31 expected the administration to announce new punishments on foreign banks, the Treasury Department said it did not have the authority to take that
Top administration officials instead pointed to success in persuading friendly countries and financial institutions to cut ties with the Islamic republic on their own.
The legislation gave the administration 60 days to investigate private foreign financial institutions engaged in non-petroleum transactions with Iran's powerful Central Bank.
That is a run up to heavier sanctions on Iran's lucrative oil business that take effect this summer.
The White House hopes that tough commitment to financial pressure will persuade Israel to back away from the possibility of launching a military strike on Iran, an approach the US believes is shortsighted.
Obama will make that case directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday when the two leaders meet at the White House.
Some in Washington expected Obama to strengthen his position ahead of the high-stakes meeting by announcing fresh economic penalties that went into effect on Wednesday. The penalties were included in a law Obama signed on December 31.
But the administration chose not to immediately take action, and officials disagreed about when they could.
A Treasury official said the administration has been identifying financial institutions that may be involved with transactions that could be sanctioned so they would be prepared to act following the deadline.
A senior Senate aide involved in Iran sanctions said that by not announcing new penalties on Wednesday, the administration had failed to comply with the law as it was intended.
Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.
In testimony on Capitol Hill and private negotiations with key allies around the world, Obama administration officials insisted sanctions already levied on Iran were working and that more economic pressure can thwart Tehran's disputed