Obama wants all countries to reject visits by Iranian officials

Obama wants all countries to reject visits by Iranian officials

The Obama administration has been in intensive discussions with foreign leaders about the alleged Iran-sponsored assassination plot and, among other steps, is asking countries around the world to stop letting Iranian leaders stop by for official visits.

"We are taking robust diplomatic action to hold Iran accountable for this plot, isolate them internationally and increase pressure on the regime," Undersecretary of State for Political Affair Wendy Sherman said at a Thursday hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. "And we will be asking all countries to consider appropriate actions, including denying Quds Force officers any platform to operate within their countries."

Sherman said that, over the last 48 hours, calls have been made to every single capital in the world by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Sherman herself, and every assistant secretary in the State Department to encourage all countries to tighten sanctions and pressure on Iran.

"We have encouraged them to make sure that the Quds Force stops doing business in their countries, to look at high-level visits that might be coming from Iranians to their country, and to consider, let’s say, postponing, if not cancelling outright, those visits," she said.

Obama ramped up the rhetoric further during his joint press conference on Thursday with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

"This is not just a dangerous escalation, this is part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government," Obama said. "And for Iran to have been involved in a plot like this indicates the degree to which it has been outside of accepted norms of international behavior for far too long. This is just one example of a series of steps that they’ve taken to create violence and to behave in a way that you don’t see other countries doing."

Obama promised to "apply the toughest sanctions and, you know, continue to mobilize the international community to make sure that Iran is further and further isolated and that it pays a price for this kind of behavior."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the Obama administration had direct contact with Iran regarding the issue on Wednesday, but she declined to elaborate on the interaction. It is possible that the contact was in New York between the U.S. and Iranian delegations to the United Nations.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has completed individual meetings with all 14 other Security Council delegations. State’s top counterterrorism official, Dan Benjamin, went to New York to join Rice in those meetings.

"I think it’s premature to say what the Security Council might be prepared to do, but we’re continuing to work on that," Nuland said.

Other countries are buying the basic idea of the plot, Nuland said, despite fairly widespread skepticism among Iran watchers about the likelihood the Quds Force would put such a clumsy plan into place.

"Countries may find it quite a story, but they’re not surprised that Iran would be capable of something like this," she said.

The State Department is sending a team to Moscow to brief Russian officials about the plot after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asked Clinton for more information.

At the hearing, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on the administration to put its support behind passage of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act, which he cosponsored along with 75 other senators.

"Our efforts to date have been transformative. But as Iran has adapted to the sanctions, unanticipated loopholes have allowed the regime to adjust and circumvent the sanctions and drive forward its effort to achieve a robust nuclear program," Menendez said. "We have to be just as prepared to adjust and adapt by closing each loophole that arises."

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who has been calling for Treasury to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, said at the hearing that the administration must do more and already has the authority to sanction 14 companies that the Government Accountability Office has cited as still doing business in Iran.

Kirk noted that the United States has sanctioned only 11 Iranian officials for human rights violations, while the European Union has sanctioned 61 officials.

Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen testified at the hearing that sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank were under consideration.

"Further U.S. action against the CBI, if it attained multilateral support, could further isolate the CBI with a potentially powerful impact on Iran," Cohen said. "[A]ll options to increase the financial pressure on Iran are on the table, including the possibility of imposing additional sanctions against the CBI."