US mulling action against Iran central bank: Official

The United States is weighing new sanctions aimed at Iran's central bank but must tread carefully to avoid handing Tehran unintended gains or alienating young Iranians, US officials said Tuesday.

"That proposal or idea has not been abandoned. It's very much on the table as are all options that we could take that would credibly and meaningfully impact Iran," said the US Treasury Department's point-man on sanctions, Adam Szubin.

Iranian students, carrying anti-US placards and portraits of the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, protest outside the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in support of Iran's nuclear program and against military threats by Israel on November 15, 2011

But Szubin told a House of Representatives committee that Washington was not yet ready to act, as officials studied the proposal to ensure it does not result in a rise in the price of oil, which would boost Iran's cash reserves.

"I'm trying to figure out what price per gallon are we not willing to pay" to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, said Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, who was chairing a hearing into US policy towards Iran.

"If there's a spike in the price of oil, Iran could be facing a windfall," explained Szubin, who warned of "plausible scenarios in which there could be profound harm to the global economic recovery and a windfall to Iran."

"I don't think that's what any of us are looking for," he said, warning that such a result would make such sanctions "worse than useless."

Acting US Deputy Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Henry Wooster cautioned that tougher sanctions aimed at hurting Iran's population in an attempt to boost political pressure on their leaders could backfire by angering young Iranians who "think very favorably of the United States."

"We need to be careful in a lot of what we do to make sure that we're, you know, not alienating a group of individuals that we want to work with and have relationship with over the long term as long as they can stop being held hostage by their government," he said.

"In terms of a tipping point, I can't offer you an exact point on the curve where that is located. But there is (one)," he said.

Wooster acknowledged congressional concerns that Chinese firms are weakening economic sanctions on Iran by filling the vacuum left by departing Western firms but cautioned "there just aren't easy responses to that."

"To date, we can report that what we are seeing is satisfactory. We continue to keep an eye on it. We continue to discuss it" with the Chinese, said Wooster.

AFP

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