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Obama puts squeeze on Iranian ambitions

There may be more pain at the pump coming as the United States clamps down on Iran financially.

On Friday, President Obama said he was staying the course with the strategy of drying up Iran’s oil revenues in an attempt to force the regime there to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapon development.

Finding a diplomatic solution to the Iranian problem is preferable, especially after Israel has repeatedly signaled that it is willing to attack suspected Iranian weapons development sites on its own, with or without the United States’ blessing. Iranian officials have stated in no uncertain terms that destroying Israel is their top goal. A nuclear-capable Iran would be in a much better position to accomplish that, a fact that is not lost on Israel.

The bottom line is that at some point Israeli officials will decide the danger to their country is too great and they will take military steps to survive. Once that happens, all bets are off as to how other countries would react and how quickly conflict would spread.

The Obama administration is trying to hit the Iranian government where it hurts — the pocketbook. And to do so, the president has signaled to U.S. trade partners that circumventing Washington’s attempts to resolve this issue economically will result in sanctions against them.

Japan and 10 European Union nations have already reduced their oil purchases from Iran, prompting the administration to give them exemptions to any sanctions. The penalties will kick in for other Iranian oil customers if they don’t “significantly” reduce oil imports from Iran by June 28. Among the nations not exempted are China, India, South Korea and Turkey, though Turkey announced Friday it would reduce its import of Iranian oil by 20 percent. With China’s role in helping finance U.S. deficit spending and the great need the U.S. has for allies India and South Korea, how much Obama is really willing to hold their feet to the fire if they resist curtailing oil imports is an intriguing question. These nations can also argue that America is asking others to bear the brunt of this effort since the U.S. doesn’t import any oil from Iran.

This is playing with political fire, particularly in a U.S. election year in which gasoline pump prices are at levels that have only previously been reached when Gulf of Mexico refineries were in the path of hurricanes and oil distribution interrupted. If sanctions kick in this summer and the oil supply tightens, Obama knows full well that all politics are local and nothing is more local than the voter’s wallet.

But the administration has studied the oil numbers and says the world supply is sufficient to absorb the loss of Iranian oil without spiking pump prices more. With gas prices in Britain already topping $8 a gallon and costs approaching $4 a gallon for regular gas here, we hope Obama’s estimates are right.

We also hope that our trade partners see the benefit of keeping Iran out of the nuclear arms business, and in the wisdom of avoiding a regional military conflict that could easily spiral out of control.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board