US targets Iranian banking system

THE United States has announced fresh sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and warned firms against dealing with Iran’s financial sector, as it tries to ”sharpen” Iran’s choice to pursue nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, unveiling what she called a ”significant ratcheting up of pressure on Iran”, said today that the US is targeting Iran’s energy sector directly for the first time.

”Recent days have brought new evidence that Iran’s leaders have continued to defy their international obligations,” said Clinton.

Detailing sanctions against goods, services and technologies for the vital petrochemical sector, Clinton said ”there have to be consequences of such behaviour”.

Iran’s energy sales are thought to account for around 70 per cent of the government’s budget and are crucial to the broader Iranian economy.

In tandem Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner issued a warning that any firms doing business with Iran’s banking sector could run the risk of funding illicit activities.

The US government named Iran as ”a primary money laundering concern”, but stopped short of adopting fully blown sanctions against Iran’s central bank.

”Financial institutions around the world should think hard about the risks of doing business with Iran,” said Geithner.

US President Barack Obama says Iran has ”chosen the path of international isolation” as Washington announced new sanctions against Tehran over its suspect nuclear program.

”As long as Iran continues down this dangerous path, the United States will continue to find ways, both in concert with our partners and through our own actions, to isolate and increase the pressure upon the Iranian regime,” Obama said in a written statement.

With UN sanctions blocked by Chinese and Russian opposition, the US, Britain, Canada and France rolled out measures aimed at pressing Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program.

Britain was the first to make the sanctions public early today, with finance minister George Osborne saying London was cutting links with Iranian banks.

”We are ceasing all contact between the UK financial system and the Iranian banking system,” Osborne said.

”All UK credit and financial institutions are required to cease business relationships and transactions with all Iranian banks, including the Central Bank of Iran,” said a ministry statement.

A series of announcements from NATO capitals followed, designed to show collective resolve as the West struggles to slow Iran’s nuclear march.

In Ottawa, House Leader Peter Van Loan announced measures that would ”block virtually all transactions with Iran, including those with the central bank.”

France went one step further, calling on international partners to impose a freeze of Iran’s central banks assets and an oil embargo.

With speculation about a possible Israeli military strike against Iran reaching fever pitch, Paris also warned of ”the added risk of a military escalation in the region. The consequences of which will be catastrophic for Iran and for the world.”

The announcements came in response to an International Atomic Energy Agency report two weeks ago that came the closest yet to accusing Iran outright of seeking nuclear weapons.

Iran, already hit with four rounds of UN sanctions, strongly denies its nuclear program is geared towards making a bomb.

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