Video: Iran sanctions hurt Hezbollah and Assad, says U.S. official

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Sanctions imposed against Iran are hurting the Islamic Republic’s ability to support its regional allies Hezbollah and the Syrian government, U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told Al Arabiya this week.

In an interview aired on Saturday, Cohen said pressure on Iran was growing.

“The sanctions on Iran are hurting Iran’s ability to support its militias and maligned activity around the world. It’s affecting their ability to support Hezbollah for instance, hurting the ability to support Hamas and their ability to support the Syrian government as well,” Cohen said.

As financial pressure on Iran builds, Lebanese Shiite party Hezbollah will be heavily affected also since Tehran has “historically been a very significant financial supporter” for the Lebanese group, Cohen said.

The U.S., U.N., and EU have all imposed sanctions against Iran over suspicion that Tehran is enriching uranium to obtain nuclear weapons.

Iran has long rejected the accusation and said its nuclear reactors are only for peaceful energy and medical purposes.

The U.S. official described Tehran as “deeply committed” to support the Syrian regime’s “brutal campaign” against its people.

Last month, reports began circulating that Hezbollah fighters were fighting alongside Syrian forces against rebels in Shiite villages near the Lebanese border.

On Thursday, Washington imposed sanctions against four Syrian ministers, the government-owned airline, Syrian Arab Airlines, and privately held al-Dunia television for supporting the President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its two-year crackdown on opposition forces.

The U.S. official highlighted the Syrian defense minister’s roles in the bloody crackdown against rebels.

“The reason we are acting today against the officials is that the Syrian defense minister in particular has been overseeing the wanton and egregious killing of citizens in Syrians, his forces are out every day indiscriminately killing civilians.”

Cohen described sanctions against Iran as “effective.” There were 20 countries importing oil from Iran, “today there are only six,” he said.

Since the sanctions, Iran’s GDP has declined by 5-8 percent for the first time in 20 years and its currency fell by 30-50 percent, Cohen said, adding that new sanctions are set to be imposed on Iran in July, Cohen said.

“As of July 1, a new law goes into effect that expands the sanctions to everyone who is providing goods to the energy sector in Iran. One of the things we have been focusing on for a number of years is the ability of Iran to get the oil out of the ground and export it.”

Cohen said the new sanctions will intensify pressure on Iran’s energy sector as well as its shipping sector.

“We are working with congress, which has a number of pieces of legislation they are considering to look for additional ways to apply pressure to sectors of the Iranian economy, apply pressure on the value of the rial and generally on the Iranian government so it has a greater incentive to come to the negotiating table in a serious and meaningful way.”

In the upcoming July sanctions, it will also be illegal to sell gold to both the Iranian government and its citizens.

“This will have a significant impact because the gold that has gone into Iran has helped to keep up the value of the rial,” Cohen said, adding “when the gold is no longer able to be purchase it will be more difficult for the government for sure to sustain the value of the riyal.”

The planned sanctions come after Democrat and Republican members of the U.S. Congress urged Obama administration officials on Wednesday to impose greater economic pressure to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and punish its human-rights violations.

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