Amid pressure from Congress to get tougher on Iran, the White House expanded U.S. sanctions on the Islamic republic on Monday, giving broad powers to U.S. authorities to begin targeting the Iranian automotive industry — as well as those found purchasing or selling large amounts of Iranian currency in foreign banks.
The move, made via an executive order issued by President Obama, marks the latest escalation in the administration’s strategy of gradually tightening economic restrictions on Iran in an effort to convince Iranian leaders to abandon their nuclear program.
While Tehran claims the program is peaceful, fears have mounted recently among Washington’s allies — particularly in Western Europe and Israel — that the Islamic republic is rapidly and secretly advancing toward the development of a warhead.
The U.N.’s lead nuclear watchdog agency last month cited an increase in Iran’s installation of cutting-edge uranium enrichment equipment that could be used to make a bomb.
Iran made the nuclear progress despite a plummet in the value of its currency, the rial — a drop most Western analysts attribute to the Obama administration’s orchestration of a global embargo on crude oil produced by the nation.
In expanding the sanctions Monday, the White House granted American officials powers to seize U.S.-based assets and block U.S. market access to anyone found to have “knowingly engaged in a significant transaction for the sale, supply, or transfer to Iran of significant goods or services used in connection with the automotive sector of Iran.”
The executive order also targets anyone found to have “knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction related to the purchase or sale of Iranian rials or a derivative, swap, future, forward, or other similar contract whose value is based on the exchange rate of the Iranian rial.”
Individuals who have “maintained significant funds or accounts outside the territory of Iran denominated in the Iranian rial” will also be targeted, the order states.
It’s not clear if the administration’s latest move will elicit a response from the candidates approved by the regime to participate in the Islamic republic’s June 14 presidential election — or whether the latest U.S. action will have any impact on the race.
Monday’s executive order also authorizes the imposition of sanctions on anyone providing material, financial or technological assistance to “any Iranian person included on the list of Specially Designated Nationals or Blocked Persons.”
The move effectively gives U.S. authorities the power to target and sanction anyone seen to be acting as a proxy on behalf of the Iranian auto, banking or oil industries.
While Obama administration officials say they are already closely monitoring attempts by some in Iran to counter the nation’s falling currency by purchasing gold, existing U.S. law only allows sanctions on individuals caught selling gold directly to the Iranian government.
Monday’s action follows a recent bipartisan push through the House Committee on Foreign Affairs of legislation that may dramatically expand the number of individuals and entities U.S. authorities can legally target with sanctions.
In debating the legislation May 22, Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and the committee’s chairman, said that it will “limit Iran’s access to overseas foreign currency reserves, blacklist more sectors of the economy and begin to target significant commercial trade.”