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US Tightens Iran Sanctions, Says Tehran Feeling Pressure

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions against an array of Iranian-controlled companies, entities and individuals said to be helping Tehran evade nuclear sanctions or promote terrorism. The State Department said there are signs the Tehran government is feeling the pressure.

Officials here are attributing Iran's apparent renewed interest in nuclear talks to the growing network of sanctions against Tehran, which the Obama administration further tightened in two new actions.

The Treasury Department said it is barring all U.S. economic dealings with 21 banks, insurance firms and other businesses in six countries that it says are Iranian-controlled, and are being used to evade nuclear sanctions.

In a separate move, the department said it is blacklisting several senior Iranian officials and entities for allegedly supporting Hezbollah, the Taliban and other groups designated by the United States as terrorist organizations.

The Treasury actions appear aimed at continuing the momentum of pressure on Iran that began with new U.N. Security Council nuclear sanctions approved on June 9, and were reinforced by additional economic curbs by the United States and European Union.

Iran has since been in contact with European Union chief diplomat Catherine Ashton about renewing a nuclear dialogue with world powers that began in Geneva last October.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the cumulative effect of the latest measures is making it increasingly difficult to do business in Iran.

"We sense that there may well be a willingness on the part of Iran to enter into the kind of dialogue that we have long sought," he said. "So we think that the steps that have been taken, both at the United Nations and now follow-on steps by the United States and by the European Union and other countries, are getting Iran's attention."

Crowley said the United States would welcome a new meeting between Iran and the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany - the P-5+1. Last year, the six powers proposed that Iran export much of its low-enriched uranium stockpile in return for fuel for a medical research reactor.

The United States sees the Tehran reactor offer as a confidence-building measure toward broader talks on the future of an Iranian nuclear program that U.S. officials say is weapons-related - a charge Iranian leaders deny.

Tuesday's new U.S. nuclear sanctions target alleged Iranian front companies in Belarus, Germany, Italy, Japan and Luxembourg, as well as Iran.

The anti-terrorism sanctions apply to four senior leaders of the elite Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The Treasury Department also names two Iranian entities, ostensibly operating as relief and reconstruction groups in Lebanon, but which are said to be providing financial and material support to Hezbollah.