By Charley Keyes
The day after the Senate defied the Obama administration on Iran sanctions, a senior Treasury Department official maintained that the present strategy is working.
"For many years now the United States has almost completely cut Iran off from the international financial system, including the Central Bank of Iran," Daniel Glaser, the department's Assistant Secretary for Rerrorist Financing, said Friday.
But senators felt the administration needed to move faster and crack down harder on Iran's ability to receive oil revenues and process them through its Central Bank.
"This amendment would starve the beast," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, one of the co-sponsors, said in an impassioned speech before the Thursday vote.
Similar action is expected in the House of Representatives as lawmakers try to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear development program. The vote signaled congressional unease with the speed of the administration's diplomatic and financial measures and had the effect of seizing the initiative away from the White House.
Glaser said the Treasury Department shares the same goals as Congress and already has taken steps to pressure Iran and create "an intense chilling effect in the international financial system from any banks, anywhere in the world, doing business with Iran and with the Central Bank of Iran."
Glaser was speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The administration maintains it already has turned up the heat on Iran and can continue working with other countries to do the same, without being forced by the new legislation.
Talks will go forward with Congress, Glaser said.
"What we want to do is be armed with a set of tools that are going to maximize our effectiveness and maximize our ability to do as much financial damage as we can possibly do to Iran," he said. "That is where we are coming from and that is what we want to continue working with the Hill to ensure we have those tools."
Glaser said the Treasury Departments office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence had scored important successes in pressuring North Korea, safeguarding Libyan assets from the late Moammar Gadhafi and, more recently, Syria.
"It is becoming very, very hard for Syria to find where to go to find access to the international financial system," Glaser said. "Ultimately, I think that is clearly putting intense pressure on the Syrian regime."
Meanwhile, there is widespread concern in the United States and among its allies that Iran is racing toward development of nuclear weapons, along with other concerns that even more strict sanctions could alienate allies and spook global oil markets.
But, said Glaser, "There is a legislative process that is going on. At the end of the day we will follow the law."