President Barack Obama is pressing UN atomic inspectors to release classified data on Iran that it was experimenting and designing nuclear weapons technology as Washington sought to expand financial sanctions on Tehran.
"The president's push is part of a larger American effort to further isolate and increase pressure on Iran after accusing it of a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States," The New York Times quoted unnamed sources as saying.
If the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' watchdog group agrees to publicise the evidence, including new data from recent months, it would almost certainly revive a debate that has been dormant during the Arab Spring about how aggressively the United States and its allies, including Israel, should move to halt Iran's suspected weapons programme, it said. Over the longer term, several senior Obama administration officials said, they are mulling a ban on financial transactions with Iran's central bank — a move that has been opposed by China and other Asian nations. Also being considered is an expansion of the ban on the purchase of petroleum products sold by companies controlled by the country's elite military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
All of the proposed sanctions carry with them considerable political and economic risks. Officials who have spoken with the director general of IAEA Yukiya Amano say he is concerned that his inspectors could be ejected from Iran. Obama had vowed last week to make sure Iran would face the "toughest sanctions" for what he said was its role in the plot to hire a Mexican drug cartel to kill the Saudi envoy.
The decision to press the IAEA was brewing even before the plot against the Saudi ambassador was discovered, but that discovery prompted the White House to pursue a full-court, public press of the agency to release the sensitive intelligence, the report said. Officials familiar with the evidence say it creates extraordinarily uncomfortable questions for the Iranians to answer, but does not definitively point to the construction of a weapon.
Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said yesterday that "the United States believes that a comprehensive assessment would be invaluable for the international community in its consideration of Iran's nuclear programme and what to do about it." Iran has declared that all of the documents suggesting work on how to create a weapon that could fit atop an Iranian missile are "fabrications" intended to justify an attack.