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The Obama administration announced new sanctions on Iran that target the country's petrochemical sector, which the White House says will hurt Iran's effort to modernize its oil and gas sector.
The sanctions were leveled to further isolate Iran for what the administration sees as the country's refusal to "live up to its international obligations regarding its nuclear program," a statement from the White House said. "Iran has chosen the path of international isolation. 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."
"They also designate 11 individuals and entities for their role in assisting Iran's prohibited nuclear programs, including its enrichment and heavy water programs."
The administration teamed with Britain and Canada in an effort to pressure Tehran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program. The British announced the first measures, declaring they would cut off all financial ties with Iranian banks to stem the flow of funds for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The coordinated actions among the United States and its two close allies represent the first direct response to the U.N. nuclear agency's recent report suggesting Iranian work toward the development of atomic weapons. The report's release has sparked frenzied international diplomacy over how to halt the Iranian threat, with President Barack Obama pressing the leaders of Russia and China little more than a week ago to join the United States and its partners in taking action.
America's financial and energy sanctions will target Iranian companies, the hardline Revolutionary Guard force and Iran's petrochemicals sector, U.S. officials said. The aim would be to build on several American measures already in place to isolate Iran's economy.
Britain's new restrictions included an order that its financial institutions cease doing business with all Iranian banks, including the country's Central Bank. The ban extends to all branches and subsidiaries of Iranian banks, amounting to an unprecedented British attempt to cut off an entire country's banking industry off from the British financial sector.
The sanctions are aimed at "preventing the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons," British Treasury chief George Osborne said. He said they also were designed to shield Britain's financial sector from exposure to Iranian money laundering and terrorism financing, without offering specifics. It made no references to Washington's allegation of an Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States.
The report released two weeks ago by the International Atomic Energy Agency alleges Iran has been seeking to acquire equipment and weapons design information, testing high explosives and detonators and developing computer models of a warhead's core. It is the strongest evidence yet that the Iranian program ranges far beyond enriching uranium for use in energy and medical research, as Iran's government insists.
The Obama administration has sought to use the evidence as leverage in making its case to other countries that sanctions against Iran should be expanded and tightened, and that existing sanctions be toughened. It has argued that further isolating Iran's economy was the best strategy for now to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, while insisting that the option of using force -- a topic of intense speculation in Israel, Europe and the United States in recent weeks -- will not be taken off the table.
The probability of an American strike, at least, appears remote. Officials believe military action might delay but not stop Iran from developing the bomb, and the diplomatic and political repercussions could be enormous for a cash-strapped U.S. which is still trying to wind down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. government has already slapped sanctions on dozens of Iranian government agencies, officials, and financial and shipping companies over the nuclear program, and the United Nations has passed four rounds of U.S.-backed sanctions against Iran's economy. But China and Russia appear to stand in the way of any further U.N. measures.
Obama returned home this weekend from an Asia-Pacific trip without any firm commitments from the two veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members over stiffer penalties against Iran. Monday's sanctions amount to a `Plan B' for the Washington, which has insisted it is prepared to act unilaterally, or in concert with like-minded governments, to increase the heat on Tehran amid hardening suspicion over its nuclear ambitions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.