WASHINGTON — The White House moved to tighten sanctions against Iran on Monday because of the country’s suspect nuclear program, freezing all property of the Central Bank of Iran, other Iranian financial institutions and the Iranian government in the United States.
The new restrictions also raised new warnings to financial institutions in other nations that they could face big penalties in the United States if they did business with Iran’s central bank.
The actions were announced in an executive order signed by President Barack Obama that started the enforcement process for a tough measure he signed into law at the end of 2011. If fully carried out, that measure could isolate Iran’s central bank and effectively choke off the sale of Iranian oil by obstructing the means of payment. Most of the revenue for oil sales by Iran, one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, is processed by its central bank.
Tensions have been rising between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear energy program, which Iran says is peaceful and Western nations say is a cover for efforts to achieve the ability to make a nuclear weapon.
Israeli leaders, who see Iran as their most serious security threat, have hinted that they may order a pre-emptive military strike on suspected nuclear targets in Iran if they conclude the sanctions are ineffective. Obama and his aides have sought to restrain Jerusalem, stressing in recent days that sanctions and diplomatic pressure are the preferred strategy for dissuading Iran.
“There has been a steady increase in our sanctions activity and this is part of that escalation,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said after the latest steps were announced.
Last week an inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency left Iran after the government refused to allow it to scrutinize elements of the nuclear program that the agency has said could be military in nature. Although the team is returning to Iran this month, Western diplomats have concluded that Iran appears intent on stonewalling.
In a statement, the White House said the executive order “re-emphasizes this administration’s message to the government of Iran — it will face ever-increasing economic and diplomatic pressure until it addresses the international community’s well-founded and well-documented concerns regarding the nature of its nuclear program.”