The Obama administration escalated sanctions pressure against Iran on Monday for the third time in a week, taking actions that could further weaken the country's already-devalued currency and seriously disrupt its automotive industry, a significant domestic employer and revenue generator for the Iranian government.
The latest actions, contained in an executive order effective July 1, were a response to what a White House statement called Iran's "continued failure to meet its international obligations," a reference to its disputednuclear energy program, which Iran has called peaceful and Western nations call a guise to achieve the ability to make atomic bombs.
Talks aimed at resolving that protracted dispute have stalled in advance of Iran's presidential elections in less than two weeks, and the leading candidate, Saeed Jalili, is Iran's top nuclear negotiator. He has said that the country will never compromise on the nuclear issue and that the sanctions will have no effect.
The sanctions generally freeze American assets of targeted Iranian businesses or individuals and prohibit them from commerce with any American companies or citizens. Foreign companies that help Iran evade the sanctions can also face severe reprisals, including a ban on doing business in the United States.
Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports tough sanctions, said the automotive sanctions could have serious consequences for Iran, where the automotive industry is one of the biggest employers. Sanctions advocates in the United States also contend Iran's automotive industry is a major procurement network that imports material and technologies used to build uranium centrifuges instead of cars.
Last week, the United States blacklisted companies in Iran's petrochemical industry for the first time and issued sanctions against more than 50 Iranian officials for what the administration called their efforts to stifle political dissent in Iran.