March 31, 2012 in Nation/World

Obama to keep heat on Iran

U.S. pushing nations to cut oil purchases; price spike a worry
Julie Pace And Ben Feller Associated Press
Associated Press photo

President Barack Obama rolls up his sleeves as he speaks at a campaign fundraiser at the University of Vermont in Burlington on Friday. Obama administration officials contend Iran is about to face its most severe economic pressure ever.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Friday he was plowing ahead with potential sanctions against countries that keep buying oil from Iran, including allies of the United States, in a deepening campaign to starve Iran of money for its disputed nuclear program.

The world oil market is tight but deep enough to keep the squeeze on Iran, Obama ruled.

The sanctions aim to further isolate Iran’s central bank, which processes nearly all of Iran’s oil purchases, from the global economy. Obama’s move clears the way for the U.S. to penalize foreign financial institutions that do oil business with Iran by barring them from having a U.S.-based affiliate or doing business here.

Obama’s goal is to tighten the pressure on Iran, not allies, and already the administration exempted 10 European Union countries and Japan from the threat of sanctions because they cut their oil purchases from Iran. Other nations have about three months to significantly reduce such imports before sanctions would kick in.

Still, administration officials said Obama is ready to slap sanctions on U.S. partners and that his action on Friday was another signal.

At issue for Obama was ruling, by Friday, whether oil supplies were sufficient to keep demanding that nations cut off Iran – not an insignificant matter in a time of high election-year gas prices at home.

Obama gave his OK after considering available reserves, increased oil production by some countries and global economic conditions. The White House emphasized he would continue to keep an eye on the oil market to make sure that it – and its consumers – could withstand shrinking purchases out of Iran.

With oil prices already rising this year amid rising tensions over the nuclear dispute between Iran and the West, U.S. officials have sought assurances that pushing countries to stop buying from Iran would not cause a further spike in prices.

It is not yet clear, at this stage of the process, how the sanctions could affect gas prices.

The U.S. sanctions are set to take effect on June 28. A European oil embargo, approved in January, starts in July.

Put together, Obama administration officials contend Iran is about to face its most severe economic pressure ever.

The United States imports no oil from Iran.

The main importers of Iranian oil that have not received exemptions from the U.S. are China, India, Turkey, South Africa and South Korea. The administration would be loath to hit a close friend like South Korea or India, or a NATO ally like Turkey, with sanctions, and is working with those countries to reduce their imports.

Turkey announced Friday it was shrinking oil imports from Iran by 20 percent, apparently bowing to pressure from the United States and the sanctions threat.

U.S. officials hope ratcheting up economic pressure will both push Iran to abandon its nuclear program and convince Israel to give sanctions time to take hold before pursuing a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The U.S. and allies believe Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb; Iran denies that.

Obama’s diplomatic squeeze on Iran comes with strong bipartisan support from Congress, which approved the sanctions plan as part of a defense bill in December.

Domestic and foreign policy concerns have complicated the administration’s decision to pursue the oil sanctions.

Oil experts testifying before a Senate panel on Thursday said tensions over Iran were already contributing to the high prices Americans were paying at the pump. And additional sanctions could drive up the price more in a tight market.

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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