The Envoy

White House orders new (but likely inconsequential) Iran sanctions amid diplomatic impasse

The Envoy

The White House announced new Iran sanctions Monday amid a continuing impasse in international efforts to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program.

President Obama issued the sanctions in an executive order Sunday. In a pre-Super Bowl interview that afternoon, he said the United States still seeks a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Obama also said that he thinks Israel has not yet decided whether it will carry out unilateral preemptive air strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities—a development that the United States seeks to avoid.

"Any kind of additional military activity inside the Gulf is disruptive and has a big effect on us," Obama told NBC's Matt Lauer in the interview. "It could have a big effect on oil prices. We've still got troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran." (You can watch a clip of the interview above.)

The new sanctions block Iranian government and financial institution assets and properties in the United States. They also issue further guidance on sanctions on Iran's central bank that Obama signed into law on Dec. 31 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The new measures are unlikely to have much effect given the United States has sanctioned transactions with Iran's government for well over a decade and Iran has so few assets in the United States.

"The real impact is likely to be negligible since the U.S. and Iran have had no relations since 1979," Douglas Jacobson, an international trade law attorney in Washington, D.C., told Yahoo News Monday. "There have been very little [Iran] assets on the books held by U.S. banks."

The new measures "make the Iran embargo much more similar to [U.S.] sanctions programs against other countries," such as Cuba and North Korea, by ordering U.S. banks and entities to not just avoid any transactions with the Iranian institutions, but to block or freeze Iranian assets, Jacobson explained. But, he added, there are hardly any Iranian government or financial assets in the United States.

The real significance is that these sanctions came via executive order. If the president issues sanctions by executive order, he can lift them without congressional involvement, said Iran expert Trita Parsi, author of a Single Role of the Dice, a new book on Obama's Iran diplomatic efforts. "Clinton tried to do this in 1996," Parsi told Yahoo News in an interview Monday. "But Congress imposed them anyway."

Meantime, a spokesman for European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton told Yahoo News that Iran has still not replied to her proposal for a new round of international nuclear talks.

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