White House to Go After Iran's Oil Income

Iranian oil technician Majid Afshari, steps down as he make his way at the oil separator facilities in Azadegan oil field, some 480 miles southwest of the capital, Tehran, Iran, April 15, 2008.
AP Photo/Vahid Salemi
Updated 11:29 a.m. ET

The Obama administration is planning to push for new sanctions against Iran, targeting its energy, financial and telecommunications sectors if it does not comply with international demands to come clean about its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials.

The officials said the U.S. would expand its own penalties against Iranian companies and press for greater international sanctions against foreign firms, largely European, that do business in the country unless Iran can prove that its nuclear activities are not aimed at developing an atomic weapon.

Among the ideas being considered are asset freezes and travel bans against Iranian and foreign businesses and individuals who do business in those areas, the officials said. The officials spoke Monday on condition of anonymity because the measures were still under review.

As the White House mulls its next move, Iran continued Tuesday to defiantly tout its most recent play in the diplomatic chess game over its weapons program.

Iran tested its longest-range missiles Monday and warned on Tuesday that they can reach any place that threatens the country, including Israel, parts of Europe and U.S. military bases in the Mideast. The launch capped two days of war games and was condemned as a provocation by Western powers, which are demanding Tehran come clean about a newly revealed nuclear facility it has been secretly building.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said there has never been a stronger international consensus to get tough on Iran's nuclear program, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss.

Western nations accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran says it only seeks to create fuel for nuclear power plants.

Diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - as well as Germany meet with Iran's top nuclear negotiator on Thursday to press once again an offer of incentives for Iran to halt suspect activity.

Of the Thursday meeting in Geneva, Gibbs said Iran must provide full transparency about its nuclear activities and ensure that it will only pursue peaceful nuclear energy uses.

"They have decisions to make. They have one of two paths that they can take. They can continue the path that they've been on, even while the world has shown conclusive intelligence about a facility in Qom, or it can make a decision to step away from its nuclear weapons program and build confidence in the world and ... enter into a meaningful relationship with the world based on their own security, but not based on nuclear weapons," Gibbs said.

The proposed sanctions would largely focus on investment in Iran's energy infrastructure and development, the officials said. Until now, the sanctions have dealt mainly with companies and people suspected of buying or selling weapons of mass destruction or their components.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Obama administration said they plan to target Iran's shipping industry if Thursday's talks in Geneva prove unproductive. Proposed sanctions would focus on insurance and reinsurance companies, which are crucial to shipping business, and would make exporting goods - namely, oil - more difficult and more expensive. The administration would also tighten existing, UN-backed sanctions and track down companies that ship with Iran through third-party traders.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that going after Iran's ability to profit from its vast energy reserves is the key aspect to the expected new sanctions - as Iran "is not yet a nuclear power, but an oil power".

"To really have an impact on Iran you have to have an impact on its ability to export oil at substantial leveles," Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations told Martin. "

For those sanctions to be effective, adds Takeyh, they must have full backing from Russia and China.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev indicated a willingness to consider sanctions against Tehran for the first time during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, but China may prove a more difficult ally to bring onboard.

"The Chinese are actually investors in Iran - Iran's petroleum sector, and also consumers of Iran's petroleum products," Takeyh explained to CBS News. "So they might have some hesitation in terms of really imposing rigorous sanctions."

Click below to watch David Martin's Evening News report:

James Rubin, former Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration and a weapons proliferation expert, cautioned, however, that the Obama administration should "be very realistic about what sanctions can do against a regime like this."

"The idea that this group (Iran's leaders), which has shed all the relatively moderate people over the last six months, is going to capitulate to the United States" is unlikely, Rubin told "Early Show" anchor Maggie Rodriguez on Monday.

Other U.S. officials familiar with the process that dates back to the Bush administration are also skeptical that Iran will agree to demands to fully disclose its intentions. Iran repeatedly has denied it wants the bomb and that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Previous meetings - the last in July 2008 - have not made progress and the officials said they did not think Thursday's talks in Geneva would produce any significant developments on the nuclear front.

Instead, the officials said they expected Iran to raise a broad range of global political concerns while the other participants focused on Iran's nuclear program, including the disclosure last week of a new uranium enrichment facility.

These officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks, said they believed another round of talks would be scheduled before mid-November, at which Iran would face demands to address the international community's concerns.

If they refuse, the officials said the U.S. and its partners would move ahead with new penalties.