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Obama clears way for new Iran sanctions

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WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama cleared the way Friday for new sanctions against Iran to pressure the regime into giving up its suspected quest for nuclear weapons.

A U.S. Energy Information Administration report indicated though oil supplies tightened at the beginning of the year and remain tight, "there currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil," the White House said in a statement.

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Production disruptions in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria and the North Sea were responsible for the reduction in oil supplies in the first two months of the year.

The declaration allows the United States to move forward with sanctions against financial institutions doing business with Iran.

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White House spokesman Josh Earnest, en route to an Obama campaign appearance in Vermont, said no decision had yet been made on whether to open the strategic oil reserve to try to ease rising domestic gasoline prices, which averaged $3.925 across the country Friday, compared to $3.606 last year at this time. Prices were highest in Alaska, California, California, Connecticut, Illinois and Indiana where the average topped $4 a gallon.

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The determination regarding the supply of non-Iranian fulfills a requirement of the National Defense Authorization Act passed in December setting a deadline for the administration to "determine the availability of non-Iranian oil supplies within 90 days of enactment," a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing Friday.

"And then the president has the ability going forward to continue to make that determination," the official said.

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"I'd also note we've been in a steady and consistent dialogue with all of our international partners on this issue over the course of the last several months as a part of our concerted effort to implement these sanctions in a responsible way that effectively targets the Iranian government while mitigating other effects," the official said. "And to that end, we have issued exemptions for a number of countries that have cooperated with us in reducing their purchases and reliance on Iranian crude oil -- notably the exemptions issued by the Secretary of State for the European Union and Japan within the last two weeks."

A second administration official, also speaking on background, said Friday U.S. officials believe "these sanctions are having a significant impact on the Iranian government and the Iranian economy, and that therefore, they present the strongest pressure we have in place to date to affect Iran's political calculus about the pursuit of a nuclear program … ."

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