Obama administration looking to crack down on Iranian-sanction evaders while still lobbying lawmakers

It’s looking less and less certain by the day that the bipartisan group of senators pushing for a fresh round of Iranian sanctions will be able to do so before the legislative year is up; the Obama administration’s foreign-policy team has once again spent their week aggressively lobbying lawmakers to cool it, arguing that even the threat of new sanctions six months down the road could upset the oh-so-delicate balance they believe they have achieved in negotiations with the Iranian regime. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was mum on what he plans to do about the issue after emerging from a closed briefing with Secretary of State John Kerry and other lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon. Via Politico:

“I and many of my other colleagues on both sides of the aisle are still committed to passing legislation that would call for — at the expiration of six months if there’s no final agreement — increased sanctions on Iran,” McCain told reporters after the briefing. “We think that that’s appropriate.”

But other influential Republicans, including Bob Corker, the top GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared skeptical of the effort. …

Two Democratic senators who had previously pledged for a sanctions bill to pass Congress expeditiously were more cautious after listening to Kerry. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said senators “have a lot to consider” and said “after a briefing, I don’t want to just react. I want to consider what I’ve heard.” …

Other key Democrats such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada declined to comment after the briefing.

Today’s Banking Committee hearing on Iran was also inconclusive about what an immediate course of action might look like; and if the pro-sanctions group of senators do end up getting their planned legislation out this week, it looks like Reid will abide by the White House’s requests and fall back on Congress’s already crowded end-of-year agenda to slow-walk it until at least January.

In the meantime, in an apparent effort to placate those senators and convince them that they have no intention of rushing through any undue or premature sanctions relief, the Treasury Department announced on Thursday that it plans to tighten the screws on a list of companies and individuals for trying to pull a run-around on Iran’s economic restrictions, via the AP:

The United States targeted more than two dozen companies and people on Thursday for evading sanctions against Iran, an effort by the Obama administration to show it will enforce existing law even as it presses Congress to hold off on additional measures while world powers pursue a comprehensive nuclear deal with Tehran.

The action freezes the U.S. assets of firms in Panama, Singapore, Ukraine and elsewhere for maintaining covert business with Iran’s national tanker company. Other companies involved directly in the proliferation of material useful for weapons of mass destruction also were blacklisted from the U.S. market. …

U.S. officials have stressed that most U.S. oil, banking and commercial restrictions remain in place despite the deal last month, which eased $7 billion in sanctions on Iran for a series of nuclear concessions.

As I mentioned the other day, foreign oil companies are already circling Iran like sharks, waiting to attack lest any business opportunities become available, and no doubt the White House wants to assure the pro-sanctions crowd that they won’t be letting anything slip through the cracks. Precisely what miraculous measures they have in place to make sure that no perfidy on the part of the Iranians’s nuclear program slips through the diplomatic cracks… remains unclear.

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