Turning the screw on Iran and its nuclear program, the Obama administration imposed new sanctions Monday on Iran's currency and auto industry, seeking to render Iranian money useless outside the country and to cut off the regime from critical revenue sources.
The executive order from President Barack Obama broadens an already concerted and multifaceted sanctions campaign aimed at crippling Iran's economy, forcing it to comply with international demands that it prove its nuclear program is peaceful. The U.S. believes Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that Iran denies.
Officials described the move as part of a dual-track effort to offer meaningful negotiations to the Iranian regime while continually upping the economic stakes.
The U.S. has already targeted other major sectors, most prominently Iranian oil exports, and last week added Iranian petrochemicals _ the largest source of funding for Iran's nuclear program after oil. Although Iranian officials have tried to downplay the effectiveness of the U.S. efforts, the Obama administration says they have had devastating effects. Crude oil production in Iran has fallen about 700,000 barrels per day since 2012, the White House said last week, and exports have dropped even more dramatically, costing Iran about $3 billion to $5 billion in revenue.
The damage inflicted to Iran's economy, while aimed at undermining the regime, has had inevitable consequences for the Iranian public, forcing the U.S. to strike a balance between isolating Iran's hard-line government and making life uncomfortable for those who live under its rule.
"The administration is trying to walk that fine line, but there's a recognition they don't have a choice between good and bad options. It's between bad and worse options," said Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which supports an aggressive stance on Iran.
To that end, the U.S. last week eased restrictions on exports of advanced communications equipment to Iranian civilians, aiming to help Iranians interact with the outside world and shed light on what U.S. officials described as the regime's oppressive attempts to stifle dissent.
The new round of sanctions comes at a politically charged moment in Iran, where the effects of U.S. sanctions have been a major issue ahead of the June 14 election to choose a replacement for term-limited President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Senior administration officials said the timing of the sanctions was unrelated to the upcoming elections.