WASHINGTON — Major Western powers took significant steps Monday to cut Iran off from the international financial system, announcing sanctions aimed at its central bank and commercial banks. The measures, a response to a recent U.N. report warning about Iran's nuclear activities, tighten the vise on Iran but still fall short of a blanket cutoff.
The United States also imposed sanctions on companies involved in Iran's nuclear industry, as well as on its petrochemical and oil industries, adding to existing measures that seek to weaken the government.
The United States, Great Britain and Canada each announced measures aimed at shutting off Iran's access to foreign banks and credit. The European Union is expected to approve similar measures Thursday, in what amounts to a concerted response to the finding this month by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has continued to work on a nuclear weapon and delivery system.
The Treasury Department named the Central Bank of Iran and the entire Iranian banking system as a "primary money laundering concern" — an unusual and symbolically important step, but one that is short of formal sanctions, which would probably be resisted by China and other Asian countries that import oil from Iran. The Obama administration is also worried that such a step could drive up oil prices.
Still, U.S. officials sought to portray the measures as a major increase in pressure on Iran's leadership, which they called on to return to the bargaining table over its nuclear program.
"The message is clear," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. "If Iran's intransigence continues, it will face increasing pressure and isolation."