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US issues new sanctions on state banks of Iran

The Bush administration yesterday announced tough new sanctions against three of Iran's largest state-owned banks, a move designed to increase pressure on the Iranian government by cutting it off from financial institutions around the world.

The move - accompanied by sanctions on key branches of Iran's military, nine Iranian companies, and five Iranian officials - sends a strong signal that senior officials in Washington are losing patience with diplomatic efforts at the United Nations to convince Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program.

"Unfortunately, the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday. The new sanctions follow a series of increasingly bellicose statements by senior US officials warning that Iran will face serious consequences unless it curbs its nuclear program and ends its alleged support for militants in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories.

Bush administration officials said the sanctions are intended to make it more difficult for Iran to finance its nuclear program and support militant groups by eliminating access to the US financial system, and by extension financial institutions worldwide.

Although Iranian companies do almost no business in the United States, officials said they believe the sanctions will influence foreign banks and investors to voluntarily sever ties with the Iranian entities to protect their reputations. The United States could use its considerable financial power to punish foreign institutions that continue to do business with the sanctioned entities.

The announcement sparked fears that the White House could use the moves to justify military action against Iran. Senior State Department officials gave assurances that they are still committed to diplomacy, despite frustration at months of delays in obtaining a third round of sanctions at the UN.

Yesterday's package of sanctions included the long-expected, controversial designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a "proliferator" of ballistic missile technology. It also designates the elite Qods Force as a supporter of terrorism for providing weapons and funding to the Taliban and to anti-Israeli militants in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The designations bar Americans from any transactions with the Iranian groups and freeze those groups' assets on US soil, a largely symbolic move. Bush administration officials said they hope the additional pressure will convince Iran to negotiate an end to its nuclear enrichment activities, which the United States believes is intended to produce nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Source: The Boston Times
Date: 30.10.2007 [129]

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