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US considers new sanctions against Iran

Filed on January 3, 2010

WASHINGTON - The administration of US President Barack Obama believes domestic unrest and signs of unexpected trouble in Iranís nuclear program make the countryís leaders particularly vulnerable to strong and immediate new sanctions, The New York Times reported late Saturday.

Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper said the long-discussed sanctions proposal comes as the administration has completed a fresh review of Iran’s nuclear progress.

Obama’s strategists believe Iran’s top political and military leaders were distracted in recent months by turmoil in the streets and political infighting, and that their drive to produce nuclear fuel appears to have faltered, the report said.

The White House wants to focus the new sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that is believed to run the nuclear weapons effort, The Times said.

Although repeated rounds of sanctions over many years have not dissuaded Iran from pursuing nuclear technology, an administration official involved in the Iran policy said the hope was that the current troubles “give us a window to impose the first sanctions that may make the Iranians think the nuclear program isn’t worth the price tag,” the paper noted.

The Obama administration officials said they believed that Iran’s bomb-development effort was seriously derailed by the exposure three months ago of the country’s secret enrichment plant under construction near the holy city of Qom, the report pointed out.

Exposure of the site deprived Iran of its best chance of covertly producing the highly enriched uranium needed to make fuel for nuclear weapons, The Times said.

In addition, international nuclear inspectors report that at Iran’s plant in Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges spin to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel, the number of the machines that are currently operating has dropped by 20 percent since the summer, a decline nuclear experts attribute to technical problems, according to the report.

Others, including some European officials, believe the problems may have been accentuated by a series of covert efforts by the West to undermine Iran’s program, including sabotage on its imported equipment and infrastructure, the paper said.

These factors have led the administration’s policymakers to lengthen their estimate of how long it would take Iran to accomplish what nuclear experts call “covert breakout” — the ability to secretly produce a workable weapon, The Times noted.

“For now, the Iranians don’t have a credible breakout option, and we don’t think they will have one for at least 18 months, maybe two or three years,” the paper quotes one senior administration official as saying.

The administration has told allies that the longer time frame would allow the sanctions to have an effect before Iran could develop its nuclear ability, The Times said.

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