White House: Shutdown Hinders Enforcement of Iran, Syria Sanctions

Workers at U.S. Treasury Department office responsible for handling the punitive measures are on furlough; announcement is meant to pressure Republicans to give ground, end fiscal standoff.

The U.S. government shutdown is hindering enforcement of sanctions against Iran and Syria because of worker furloughs at the Treasury Department office responsible for handling the punitive measures, the White House said on Friday.

Highlighting one of the damaging effects of the fiscal standoff to try to pressure Republicans to give ground, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the shutdown had reduced staffing at Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control to 11 employees from a normal contingent of 175.

The comments came as the Obama administration's diplomatic engagement with new Iranian President Hassan Rohani has put a focus on U.S. sanctions, which are widely seen as having damaged Iran's economy enough to force Tehran back to the negotiating table.

Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been aggressively campaigning in recent weeks to make sure that the U.S. and Europe don't not let up pressure on Iran. Netanyahu announced on Friday that he will be meeting with European leaders next week to urge them to refrain from easing sanctions. "We cannot be tempted by the Iranian trickery to ease sanctions as long as Iran does not dismantle its military nuclear program," he added. 

Later this month, Iran will meet the P5+1 – the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany – in Geneva to resume negotiations aimed at resolving the years-old nuclear dispute.

The White House has sought to cast blame on Republicans for bringing much of the government to a standstill by seeking to defund or delay President Barack Obama's healthcare program as a condition of allowing a vote on spending that would reopen the government. House of Representatives Republicans accuse Obama of intransigence and not caring about the shutdown's effects.

Obama was to be briefed by top aides on Friday on the impact of the four-day-old shutdown, including how furloughs have hurt the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

"The office is unable to sustain its core functions," Carney told reporters at the daily White House briefing. "That is a negative consequence of this wholly unnecessary decision by the House Republicans to shut down the government."

The office's tasks include "issuing new sanctions designations against those enabling the governments of Iran and Syria, as well as terrorist organizations, WMD (weapons of mass destruction) proliferators, narcotics cartels, and transnational organized crime groups," Carney said.