US tightens noose on Iran

Washington targeting regime’s energy sector directly for first time

(AFP) – The United States announced fresh sanctions against Iran’s energy sector Monday and warned firms against dealing with its banks as it pressed Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons drive.

“The message is clear,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. “If Iran’s intransigence continues it will face increasing pressure and isolation. Today the United States is taking a series of steps to sharpen this choice.”

Clinton, unveiling what she called a “significant ratcheting up of pressure on Iran,” said the United States was targeting Iran’s energy sector directly for the first time.

“Recent days have brought new evidence that Iran’s leaders have continued to defy their international obligations,” she said, referring to the strongest report yet from the UN’s nuclear watchdog on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Detailing sanctions against goods, services and technologies for the vital petrochemical sector, Clinton said “there have to be consequences of such behaviour.”

Iran’s energy sales are thought to account for around 70 percent of the government’s budget and are crucial to the broader Iranian economy.

In tandem, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner issued a warning that any firms doing business with Iran’s banking sector could run the risk of funding illicit activities.

The US government named Iran as “a primary money laundering concern,” but stopped short of adopting fully blown sanctions against Iran’s central bank.

“Financial institutions around the world should think hard about the risks of doing business with Iran,” said Geithner.

Britain and Canada also rolled out new measures aimed at pressing Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program and Clinton said she expected more countries to follow suit.

“We expect additional sanctions by other international partners in the days ahead,” she said.

Iran has insisted its nuclear program is peaceful.