President Barack Obama announced new U.S. sanctions on Tuesday against foreign banks that help Iran sell its oil, efforts that he said would increase pressure on Tehran for failing to meet its international nuclear obligations.
Obama's decision, in an executive order, came ahead of congressional votes on new sanctions intended to further strip Iran of its oil-related revenues. It also followed criticism from Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney that the White House is failing to act strongly enough to stop Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
In a statement, Obama said the United States remained committed to finding a diplomatic resolution to the standoff with Tehran but was committed "to hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions."
"If the Iranian government continues its defiance, there should be no doubt that the United States and our partners will continue to impose increasing consequences," he said.
Obama's new sanctions target foreign banks that handle transactions for Iranian oil or handle large transactions from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) or Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), two key players in Iran's oil trade.
The order also targets China's Bank of Kunlun and Iraq's Elaf Islamic Bank for providing services to Iranian banks.
The new measures will help curb Iran's efforts to evade U.S. banking and oil sanctions, said Mark Dubowitz, head of the non-profit group Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which pushes for tough sanctions on Iran.
But he said more steps are needed to blacklist Iran's energy sector and require countries to further cut their oil purchases.