A new wave of US sanctions hit 18 Iranian banks on Thursday, with the Treasury Department saying they were designed to prevent "top illicit access to US dollars."
"Our sanctions programs will continue until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programs," the US officials said. At the same time, they said the new punitive measures would still "allow for humanitarian transactions to support the Iranian people."
The targeted Iranian banks would be effectively cut off from the international financial system. Foreign entities doing business with them were given 45 days to wind out their dealings with the Iranian lenders before the changes go into effect.
Zarif slams 'this latest of cruelties'
The US officials did not provide specific charges against the banks. Instead they said the country's financial sector could be used to support Tehran's alleged nuclear program and fuel its "malign regional influence."
Despite the US remarks about continuing humanitarian transactions, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the US was cutting off Iran's "remaining channels to pay for food & medicine."
"Iranians WILL survive this latest of cruelties," Zarif wrote on Twitter. "But conspiring to starve a population is a crime against humanity. Culprits & enablers — who block our money — WILL face justice."
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The US listed the targeted lenders as Amin Investment Bank, Bank Keshavarzi Iran, Bank Maskan, Bank Refah Kargaran, Bank-e Shahr, Eghtesad Novin Bank, Gharzolhasaneh Resalat Bank, Hekmat Iranian Bank, Iran Zamin Bank, Karafarin Bank, Khavarmianeh Bank, Mehr Iran Credit Union Bank, Pasargad Bank, Saman Bank, Sarmayeh Bank, Tosee Taavon Bank, Tourism Bank and Islamic Regional Cooperation Bank.
Tightening the screws on Iran
The banks have previously managed to evade the bulk of US sanctions against Iran. The latest US move, however, would not only jeopardize them, but also put foreign businesses who work with the Iranian lenders into danger of facing US sanctions.
European governments oppose blanket sanctions against the Iranian financial sector, as their own banks and business may be harmed by the measures.
Read more: UK, France, Germany oppose US deadline to reimpose sanctions on Iran
However, the Trump administration has been escalating the already severe sanctions against Iran as part of its maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic-ruled nation. The US has also been clamping down on Iran's oil exports.
Last month, the US declared unilateral return of UN sanctions on Iran following the US exit from the 2015 nuclear deal. The move was rejected not only by Iran, but also by the UN and Washington's European allies.
At the time, US top diplomat Mike Pompeo said the maximum pressure on Iran would continue until Iran stopped spreading "chaos, violence and bloodshed."
dj/msh (AFP, Reuters)