Sunday November 29th, 2015 3:52AM

US hits firms over Iran; sanctions debate goes on

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States targeted more than two dozen companies and people on Thursday for evading sanctions against Iran, an effort by the Obama administration to show it will enforce existing law even as it presses Congress to hold off on additional measures while world powers pursue a comprehensive nuclear deal with Tehran.

The action freezes the U.S. assets of firms in Panama, Singapore, Ukraine and elsewhere for maintaining covert business with Iran's national tanker company. Other companies involved directly in the proliferation of material useful for weapons of mass destruction also were blacklisted from the U.S. market. American citizens are banned from any transactions with the listed individuals and firms.

The announcement by the Treasury and State departments comes as the administration is furiously lobbying lawmakers to refrain from any new package of sanctions on Iran after last month's interim nuclear agreement in Geneva. As part of the deal, the U.S. agreed to no new nuclear-related financial penalties against Tehran for six months, and Iran's foreign minister has warned that any such action could kill the diplomatic effort.

Still, many Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for even tougher measures to raise the pressure further on the Islamic republic, despite the administration's pleas for patience.

On Thursday, the Obama administration received important support from Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., chairman of the Senate banking committee, which had been seen as a likely starting point for any new sanctions from Congress.

"The administration's request for a diplomatic pause is reasonable," Johnson said at an Iran hearing he chaired. "A new round of U.S. sanctions now could rupture the unity of the international coalition against Iran's nuclear program. Existing sanctions will continue to bite, and to bite hard."

Separately Thursday, the Royal Bank of Scotland agreed to pay $100 million to settle claims by U.S. and New York state regulators that it violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and other countries. Regulators said the bank channeled about $523 million in transactions to other banks for clients from those countries and concealed the clients' identities in the paperwork.

U.S. officials have stressed that most U.S. oil, banking and commercial restrictions remain in place despite the deal last month, which eased $7 billion in sanctions on Iran for a series of nuclear concessions. Secretary of State John Kerry argued earlier this week that Iran would still lose $30 billion as a result of economic penalties that stay in force under the interim deal.

"We have not imposed sanctions for sanctions' sake," David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department's sanctions chief, told Senate banking committee members. "One of the key purposes of sanctions always has been to induce a shift in the policy calculus of the Iranian government and to build the necessary leverage for serious negotiations about Iran's nuclear program."

Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. nuclear negotiator with Iran, also testified.

The administration appears to have succeeded in heading off any immediate sanctions, but Senate action may not be far off. Aides said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been talking about possible votes in January after the passage of a defense bill he hopes to secure before senators break next week for Christmas.

Possible House action against Iran this week looks likely to fall short of new penalties, yet may be followed up after its members return in the new year. Aides said the nonbinding resolution being pushed by Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., would instead spell out suggested terms for any final deal. It could be introduced as early as Thursday.
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
Standoff at Planned Parenthood ends with suspect's arrest; 3 killed, 9 wounded
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A gunman who opened fire inside a Planned Parenthood clinic was arrested Friday after engaging in gun battles with authorities during an hourslong standoff that killed t...
1:13AM ( 1 day ago )
White House undergoes Thanksgiving Day lockdown after man draped in American flag jumps fence
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man draped in an American flag climbed over the fence at the White House on Thursday, prompting a lockdown as the first family celebrated Thanksgiving.The man was immediately appre...
10:11PM ( 2 days ago )
Obama grants reprieve to turkeys 'Honest' and 'Abe' during White House ceremony
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama spared two turkeys named for one of the nation's most admired presidents, continuing a White House tradition that provides a refreshing sense of amusement and...
9:18PM ( 3 days ago )
The Latest: UN Security Council strongly condemns 'horrifying' attack in Mali, urges probe
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):___4:55 a.m.The U.N. Security Council is condemning "the horrifying terrorist attack" at the...
10:58PM ( 1 week ago )
World leaders vow vigorous response to Paris terror spree, but little indication of next steps
ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) — World leaders vowed a vigorous response to the Islamic State group's terror spree in Paris as they opened a two-day meeting in Turkey on Sunday, with President Barack Obama call...
2:14PM ( 1 week ago )