The Bush administration said Wednesday financial sanctions it is imposing on Iran are aimed at Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program and not intended to cause broad hardship among the Iranian people. The U.S. Treasury Department singled out a state-owned Iranian bank for penalties on Tuesday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Officials here insist the United States is not engaged in a general effort to throttle Iran's foreign trade, but rather trying to impose costs on Iranian entities that support that country's drive to acquire nuclear weapons.
The comments follow a U.S. Treasury Department announcement Tuesday barring American financial institutions from doing business with an Iranian state-owned bank, Bank Sepah, identified as a financial conduit for three companies supporting Iran's missile program.
The Iranian companies were named in the December 22 U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran, which urged all nations to avoid doing business with firms associated with Iran's weapons of mass destruction efforts.
The U.S. Treasury action is the second of its kind against an Iranian bank in recent months. It goes a step beyond the U.N. resolution by making it difficult, if not impossible, for Bank Sepah to engage in transactions involving dollars even if they occur overseas.
The U.S. moves have drawn criticism from European governments with extensive trade ties with Iran, who view the Treasury action as an effort to impose U.S. law on them, so-called extra-territoriality.
Bank Sepah itself Wednesday denied it was helping Iranian weapons efforts and said the U.S. action against it was political and part of a bigger scenario.
In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey dismissed the idea the United States is trying to broadly cripple Iran's economy, though he acknowledged that sanctions targeted at Iranian weapons efforts can have a wider impact:
"Unfortunately, I think there will always be some spillover effect, because the Iranian regime has worked so hard to hide this program, and has worked so hard to keep its activities out of public view," he said. "But the intent of the sanctions, and the way we are seeking to implement them, is designed to have a maximum effect on Iran's nuclear program and a minimum impact on the Iranian people."
Casey said because Iran is now subject to mandatory sanctions under Chapter Seven of the U.N. charter, companies around the world are reassessing the wisdom of doing business with Iran, and that Iranian officials have acknowledged the impact this is having on foreign investment.
He said all Iran would have to do to move away from confrontation is to suspend uranium enrichment and return to nuclear negotiations, as it did once before in its November 2004 Paris agreement with Britain, France and Germany.
Iran denies seeking a nuclear weapon, but insists it is entitled to enrichment and other elements of the nuclear fuel cycle for its civilian power program.
Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in Tehran Monday the Iranian people will not give up their right to what he termed this great achievement.