By JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Turning the screw on Iran and its nuclear program, the Obama administration imposed new sanctions Monday on Iran's currency and auto industry, seeking to cut off the regime from critical revenue sources and the global financial market.
The executive order from President Barack Obama broadens what is already a concerted and multifaceted sanctions campaign aimed at crippling Iran's economy, forcing it to comply with international demands that it prove its nuclear program is peaceful. The U.S. believes Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that Iran denies.
Officials described the move as part of a dual-track effort to offer meaningful negotiations to the Iranian regime while continually upping the economic pressure.
"Even as we intensify our pressure on the Iranian government, we hold the door open to a diplomatic solution that allows Iran to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their obligations. However, Iran must understand that time is not unlimited," said White House press secretary Jay Carney, adding that more sanctions would be levied if the regime doesn't change course.
The new sanctions marked the first time Iran's currency, the rial, has been targeted directly with sanctions, the White House said. The sanctions apply to foreign financial institutions that purchase or sell significant amounts of the rial, as well as to those who hold significant amounts of the rial in accounts outside Iran.
Senior administration officials said were designed to make the rial essentially unusable outside of Iran. The hope is that banks and businesses holding Iranian currency will dump the funds, making the rial weaker. The value of the rial by half since the start of 2012, the White House said.
Officials would not specify what constitutes a "significant" transaction. The officials were not authorized to speak on the record about the sanctions and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another set of sanctions will target those who enable Iran's auto manufacturing sector by banning the sale or transfer of goods or services to be used in Iran's auto sector. Officials said the auto sector is a key source of revenue for the regime; the U.S. has already targeted other major sectors such as oil and petrochemicals.
Also subject to penalties will be anyone who provides material support to Iranians and others who have been blacklisted by previous sanctions
Officials said the timing of the sanctions was not related to Iran's upcoming elections.
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