Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted Wednesday that the Obama administration is undertaking a campaign of "aggressive outreach" to ensure sanctions on Iran are enforced.
"We should recognize what has been accomplished with the sanctions Congress passed and we are aggressively implementing," Clinton told the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. "Discussion hasn't gone anywhere, but pressure has been ratcheted up."
The first round of penalties under legislation President Barack Obama signed into law on 31 December 2011 were to take effect Wednesday.
That law says that 60 days after enactment, the president must penalize on any privately owned foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct or facilitate any significant financial transaction with the Central Bank of Iran.
The administration indicated it had no plans to mark that deadline by announcing a new round of penalties, leading many lawmakers to question whether the White House planned to use the sanctions to full effect.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) pressed Clinton during the hearing on the administration's enforcement of the new penalties. Menendez raised concerns about the criteria used to determine whether a country had achieved "significant reductions in the purchase of petroleum."
"Can I presume that in the absence of a national security waiver under the law, that all countries will be required to actually make significant reductions in their purchases during each of the 180-day period?" Menendez asked.
Clinton said the administration expects to see significant reductions. She said the administration has had "very intense and very blunt" conversations with India, China and Turkey.
"Both on their government side and on their business side," Clinton said. "They are taking actions that go further and deeper than perhaps their public statements might lead you to believe and we're going to continue to keep an absolute foot on the pedal in terms of our accelerated aggressive outreach to them."
"And they, you know, they are looking for ways to make up the lost revenues, the lost crude oil," she added.
On Tuesday, Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday the US is "diligently reaching out around the world to get agreements from countries for whom it's quite difficult to comply with our sanctions. But they are doing the best they can."
Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence David Cohen told lawmakers the administration was interpreting the law to mean that transactions with the Central Bank occurring after the deadline would put financial institutions at risk of penalties.
"Foreign private banks that, after today, engage in significant transactions with the CBI unrelated to the purchase of oil risk losing their correspondent account access to U.S. financial institutions," Cohen explained.
The Energy Information Administration is expected to issue both classified and unclassified reports Wednesday on the availability and supply of non-Iranian-produced oil, reflecting the current production rate and the total reserve.
The reports will serve as the basis for whether the administration proceeds with the next round of penalties.