New sanc­tions

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Paul Richter re­port­ing from Washington paul.richter@latimes.com

The U.S. seeks to sharpen pres­sure on the lead­ers of Iran.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Wed­nes­day sanc­tioned eight se­nior Ira­nian of­fi­cials for al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions as it sought to in­crease pres­sure on Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad’s regime while reach­ing out to his op­po­nents in Iran.

The eight — who in­clude the head of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, top se­cu­rity of­fi­cials and pros­e­cu­tors — are re­spon­si­ble for a num­ber of abuses since the dis­puted pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of 2009, U.S. of­fi­cials said.

“On these of­fi­cials’ watch, or un­der their com­mand, Ira­nian cit­i­zens have been ar­bi­trar­ily ar­rested, beaten, tor­tured, raped, black­mailed and killed,” Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton said in an­nounc­ing the sanc­tions.

Any U.S. as­sets held by the eight of­fi­cials will be frozen, and they will be barred from re­ceiv­ing visas or do­ing busi­ness in the United States. Al­though none of the Ira­ni­ans are known to have siz­able fi­nan­cial ties to the United States, Amer­i­can of­fi­cials said they hoped that the sanc­tions would fur­ther dis­cour­age in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses from do­ing busi­ness with Iran.

The U.S. and its al­lies have im­posed a se­ries of eco­nomic sanc­tions on Iran over the last sev­eral months in hopes of per­suad­ing it to scale back its nu­clear pro­gram. The U.S. and many other na­tions be­lieve that Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram is aimed at ac­quir­ing the abil­ity to build a bomb. Iran says its goal is power gen­er­a­tion.

The eight of­fi­cials sanc­tioned in­clude Mo­hammed Ali Ja­fari, com­man­der of Iran’s elite Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, which con­trols much of the Ira­nian econ­omy, and one of his top deputies, Hos­sein Taeb.

The names ap­pear to tar­get one fac­tion of Iran’s elite: con­ser­va­tive hard-lin­ers close to Ah­madine­jad who are be­lieved to have been be­hind the months-long crack­down against mostly peace­ful Ira­nian pro­test­ers last year.

Left off the list is Ah­madine­jad him­self, as well as con­ser­va­tives per­ceived as more mod­er­ate, such as par­lia­ment Speaker Ali Lar­i­jani or for­mer con­ser­va­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mohsen Rezai.

The an­nounce­ment rep­re­sented the first time the U.S. has sanc­tioned Ira­ni­ans for hu­man rights abuses, and it marked an­other move by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to show sup­port for op­po­nents of the regime.

On Wed­nes­day, U.S. au­thor­i­ties also put into ef­fect a pro­hi­bi­tion on im­ports of Ira­nian rugs and car­pets. Also barred are Ira­nian pis­ta­chios and other foods.

U.S. of­fi­cials would like to see op­po­si­tion groups in Iran build pres­sure for re­form from within. But they have moved care­fully out of con­cern that reach­ing out could be read as a sign that the dis­senters were col­lab­o­rat­ing with Washington.

Ray Takeyh, a for­mer Iran ad­vi­sor to the ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the sanc­tions “send an im­por­tant mes­sage to the Ira­nian govern­ment that our ob­jec­tions to their be­hav­ior aren’t limited to tech­ni­cal vi­o­la­tions of their nu­clear pledges.”

He said that al­though it was a chal­lenge for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to fig­ure out how to con­nect with the op­po­si­tion, the U.S. ges­ture would be well re­ceived.

The sanc­tions an­nounce­ment comes amid signs of in­creas­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal strains in Iran. The value of Iran’s cur­rency has dropped more than 20% since March, and the Cen­tral Bank an­nounced emer­gency mea­sures Wed­nes­day to sup­port it, ac­cord­ing to the semiof­fi­cial Mehr news agency.

U.S. of­fi­cials con­tend that this year’s sanc­tions, which have been im­posed by both the United Na­tions and in­di­vid­ual coun­tries, led by the United States and the Euro­pean Union, have forced many in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses to cut off con­tacts with Iran.

The sanc­tions do not have uni­ver­sal sup­port.

Rus­sia sup­ported the U.N. sanc­tions but ob­jected to the tougher uni­lat­eral sanc­tions, say­ing they may hurt Rus­sian com­pa­nies want­ing to in­vest in Iran’s en­ergy sec­tor. Rus­sian di­plo­mats tried at last week’s United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion to rally sup­port from other na­tions — mainly China, In­dia, Brazil and Turkey — that also want to in­vest in Ira­nian en­ergy.

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