US, Britain, Canada Impose New Iran Sanctions

Posted November 21st, 2011 at 6:45 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States, Canada, and Britain have each announced new measures to increase economic pressures against Iran in response to international concerns that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons.

The U.S. said late Monday it was imposing sanctions on goods and services used by Iran's oil and gas industry to discourage foreign companies from investing in the sector, and announced a worldwide diplomatic campaign to encourage countries to buy petrochemicals from other suppliers.

Iranian petrochemical companies have become increasingly involved in refining gasoline as other Iranian energy firms face international sanctions.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the U.S. has also now designated Iran a territory of “primary money laundering concern.” He says this will send a warning that any transaction with Iranian banks could be supporting Iran's illegal activities. U.S. companies and individuals already are barred from doing business with Iran.

Both officials said further measures are being considered, including against Iran's Central Bank.

Earlier Monday, Britain said it will stop business transactions with all banks in Iran, including Iran's Central Bank, the first time Britain has cut ties with the entire banking sector of a country. And Canada announced it would block “virtually all transactions” with Iran, including those with its Central Bank. Canada said it will also ban the export to Iran of any goods used by Iran's petrochemical industry.

Reuters news agency quotes Iran's trade minister as saying sanctions are a “lose-lose” game for Western nations and Iran because the West will not be able to invest in Iran's oil projects.

The U.S. also said it has expanded the number of Iranian companies and organizations facing sanctions for suspected involvement in the Iranian nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency released a report earlier this month citing intelligence about Iranian efforts to develop the technology needed to build nuclear weapons. Iran has said the report is based on fabrications and insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

Since the release of the report, U.S. lawmakers have urged the Obama administration to impose tighter sanctions, including penalties against the Iranian central bank.

U.S. officials say President Barack Obama is reluctant to take that step because it could block the oil-producing nation's access to international commerce and export markets, leading to a potential rise in oil prices that could hurt global economic growth.

Meanwhile, the IAEA began a two-day meeting of Middle Eastern nations in Vienna Monday to discuss creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Iran is boycotting the meeting.

Delegates from Syria and Lebanon criticized Israel for not letting the U.N. inspect its nuclear facilities. Many countries believe Israel has nuclear weapons, but Israel has never confirmed this.

Officials say other Arab delegations speaking at the closed-door meeting acted less confrontational toward Israel than usual. Israel says it will not discuss a nuclear-free zone without peace in the Middle East.