(AFP) – Oct 25, 2007
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Thursday escalated tensions over Iran's nuclear drive and alleged backing for terrorism with a raft of new sanctions against the Islamic republic's military and banks.
Iran denounced the unilateral sanctions as illegal and "doomed to failure" and Russia sounded a note of concern. But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was well within its rights.
"We're taking additional actions to defend our interests and our citizens, and to help our friends to secure their countries," she told reporters.
The sanctions target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), accused of spreading weapons of mass destruction, and the IRGC's elite Quds Force, which was designated as a supporter of terrorism.
Three Iranian state-owned banks were also blacklisted, along with IRGC-controlled companies and the logistics arm of Iran's defense ministry, as the United States stepped up a drive to squeeze Iran out of global banking.
"It is plain and simple -- reputable institutions do not want to be bankers to this dangerous regime," Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said.
"The IRGC is so deeply entrenched in Iran's economy and commercial enterprises, it is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran, you are doing business with the IRGC," he said.
The US administration has tried and failed for years to exert pressure on Iran, which it accuses of fomenting global terrorism, supporting insurgents in Iraq and working to develop an atomic bomb.
President George W. Bush suggested last week a nuclear-armed Iran could trigger "World War III" and Vice President Dick Cheney spoke on Sunday of "serious consequences" unless the Islamic republic comes to heel.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon was conducting "routine" contingency planning for military options against Iran, but stressed diplomatic and economic pressure remained the focus.
Responding to the US sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against making a bad situation worse.
"You can run like crazy carrying razors -- it is not the best way to resolve the problem," he said at an EU-Russia summit in Portugal.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini also lashed out after the US announcement, according to state media.
"The hostile American policies towards the respectable people of Iran and the country's legal institutions are contrary to international law, without value and -- as in the past -- doomed to failure," he said.
"The ridiculous accusations by American officials cannot save them from the Iraqi crisis that they have themselves created," Hosseini said.
Rice stressed the US wanted a diplomatic solution, but warned: "If they choose to continue down a path of confrontation, the US will act with the international community to resist these threats of the Iranian regime."
Democratic presidential hopeful Chris Dodd said the announcement "smacks, frankly, of a dangerous step toward armed confrontation with Iran."
The United States has been frustrated by Russian and Chinese reluctance to impose a third round of UN sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, and European countries such as France and Germany have longstanding commercial ties to Iran.
Senior US officials said despite having little direct leverage over Iran, the United States was sending a "powerful" message to major trading nations whose banks rely on the dollar-dominated financial system.
"China, for instance, has increased its trade with Iran at a time when most other members of the United Nations Security Council are decreasing trade with Iran," Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said.
Burns also stressed that the US sanctions were legal under UN Security Council resolutions demanding an end to Iran's enrichment of uranium and to its purported export of terrorism.
US officials said these were the broadest sanctions imposed on Iran since the country's Islamic revolution in 1979. It is also the first time the United States has directly sanctioned another country's military.
The banks targeted were Bank Melli and Bank Mellat, accused of providing banking services for Iran's nuclear agencies, and Bank Saderat, which allegedly funnels funds to Islamist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
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