WASHINGTON – The Obama administration signaled its intention Friday to push for punitive new sanctions against Iran, warning that tough new measures now are likely and urging reluctant nations not to circumvent them.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates predicted in Iraq that world powers would agree soon on “significant additional sanctions.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, warned in Washington that Latin American countries, in particular, will face “consequences” if they “flirt” with the Islamic Republic.
At the United Nations, top U.S. diplomats, including U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, joined European officials in accusing Iran of smuggling weapons to Syria in breach of a U.N. arms-export ban.
The warnings came as a year-end deadline set by Western countries for Iranian cooperation is about to expire, and they represented the clearest sign yet that President Barack Obama is abandoning hopes of engagement with Iran.
The next move will be international negotiations over a new set of economic punishments, which may begin in coming days, to build on U.N. measures dating to 2006. A senior European official said negotiations over the new measures could last until February.
U.S. officials have not advocated specific sanctions but favor steps to further constrict trade by drying up international banking activity and shipping. Advocates also hope for individual, nation-to-nation sanctions as well as penalties from the European Union.
Many countries have signaled an openness to additional punishment, including Russia, a onetime holdout. However, the harshest measures, such as targeting Iran’s imports of needed refined gasoline, remain divisive. And China, which has strong economic ties with Iran, remains leery of new punishment, adding uncertainty to the coming sanctions talks.
The day’s strongest language came from Clinton, who signaled that nations that try to disrupt the U.S.-European efforts to isolate Iran risked a punishment that she did not specify.
During a speech at the State Department on Latin American policy, she said building ties to Iran is “really a bad idea.”
“If people want to flirt with Iran, they should take a look at what the consequences might well be for them,” she said.
Clinton specifically mentioned Venezuela and Bolivia, whose left-leaning leaders, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, have sought to build an anti-American political alliance that also includes Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Gates’ comments came during a question-and-answer session with U.S. troops during a visit to Kirkuk, Iraq. His prediction apparently was the first time a senior official so directly asserted that sanctions were ahead.
“I think you’re going to see some additional sanctions imposed by the international community, assuming the Iranians don’t change course and agree to do the things that they signed up to do at the beginning of October,” Gates said.