- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2011

The Obama administration imposed new sanctions against Iran on Monday, coordinating with Britain, Canada and France to pressure Tehran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Iran has chosen the path of international isolation,” President Obama said in a statement. “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.”

The U.S. actions targeted Iranian firms in the petrochemical sector and companies that support the nation’s nuclear industry. The Treasury Department also named the Central Bank of Iran as a primary money-laundering “concern,” a symbolic step that stopped short of Britain’s action of cutting off ties with the bank.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, who announced the sanctions along with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, said the U.S. is continuing to look at other options and scolded any institution that did business with the Islamic Republic.

“If you are a financial institution and you engage in any transaction involving Iran’s central bank or any other Iranian bank operating inside or outside Iran, you are at risk of supporting Iran’s illicit activities: its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its support for terrorism and its efforts to deceive responsible financial institutions and evade sanctions,” he said.

Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, has offered an amendment to expand sanctions on Iran to include foreign financial institutions that conduct transactions through the Central Bank of Iran, which he said funds the nation’s global terrorist activity and nuclear program.

“I think the toughest non-military action that we can take helps avoid a war likely between Iran and Israel,” Mr. Kirk told the ABC affiliate in Chicago.

Mr. Kirk’s proposal, which the Senate is expected to take up after Thanksgiving, would freeze the U.S.-based assets of any foreign financial institution conducting transactions through the Iranian central bank.

The British took some of those same steps, declaring they would cut off all financial ties with Iranian banks to curtail funds for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The actions by the U.S. and its close allies represent the first direct response to a report by the U.N.’s atomic energy watchdog strongly suggesting that Iran is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons. The Nov. 8 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency presented intelligence suggesting Iran had worked on designing an atomic bomb and may still be secretly carrying out related research. Iran says its nuclear work is entirely peaceful.

The range of unilateral steps planned by Western powers reflects the difficulty of persuading Russia and China not to veto further measures at the U.N. Security Council, where they have supported four previous sanctions resolutions.

The sanctions also follow accusations by the Justice Department last month that Iranian officials were involved in an unsuccessful plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said the pressure from the U.S. and its allies “has isolated Iran to a degree that has never before been the case, that is having a direct effect on the Iranian economy, as Iranian leaders have conceded.”

“We will continue in order to pressure the Iranian regime to get right with the world, to live up to its international obligations and to deal with the fact that the international community is united in its assessment of Iranian behavior,” Mr. Carney said.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Monday that the expanded sanctions prohibit almost all financial transactions with the Iranian government. They also add individuals and entities to the list of designated persons and expand the list of prohibited goods.

Mr. Baird says Canada is deeply disturbed by the information contained in the most recent IAEA report, adding that the regime in Tehran poses the most significant threats to global peace and security today.

c This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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