By Jamie Crawford
As the Obama administration tests the sincerity of Iran's recent diplomatic outreach, many of the people charged with keeping up pressure on the regime are off the job, having been furloughed in the current government shutdown.
A spokesperson from the Treasury Department told CNN the department had to furlough "nearly all its staff" at the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees enforcement of U.S. sanctions.
As a result of the furloughs, the department is currently unable to sustain its core functions of issuing new sanctions against individuals and entities deemed to be assisting the governments of Iran or Syria, as well as terrorist organizations, narcotics cartels, or proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.
The current sanctions regime directed at Iran over its disputed nuclear program has significantly weakened the Iranian economy, and is believed to be the main impetus behind the outreach by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
In addition to the furloughs at OFAC, other units within the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence also are working on just a "skeleton crew" the spokesperson said, naming the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
"This massively reduced staffing not only impairs OFAC's ability to execute its mission," the spokesperson said in a written statement, "it also undermines TFI's broader efforts to combat money laundering and illicit finance, protect the integrity of the U.S. financial system, and disrupt the financial underpinnings of our adversaries."
Analysts who closely follow the current sanctions on Iran, say the current impasse in Washington comes at a dangerous time.
"At a time where sanctions pressure is the only instrument of U.S. policy that is actually working to persuade the Iranian regime to negotiate over its illicit nuclear program, the Treasury furloughs could not be timed worse," said Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
"With hyper-partisan politics sidelining Treasury's G-Men, Iran's Supreme Leader is getting his sanctions relief without giving up any nuclear concessions," he said.