The United States has imposed sanctions on banks in China and Iraq that the White House says are helping Iran evade international sanctions.
The new sanctions target China's Bank of Kunlun and Iraq's Elaf Islamic Bank in an attempt to further isolate Tehran over its controversial nuclear program, which the United States and other Western countries suspect is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
In a statement, the White House said the latest wave of sanctions expose financial institutions that help "the increasingly desperate Iranian regime" to access the international financial system.
David Cohen, the U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said that "we expect that today's actions will have a significant chilling effect on the ability of [the Bank of Kunlun in China] and [Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq] to operate anywhere in the world as banks around the world take note that these two banks have knowingly transacted with designated Iranian banks."
Cohen says targeting the Chinese and Iraqi banks also serves as a warning to other banks around the world that they should refrain from doing business with the Iranian regime.
"The message to banks worldwide should be clear. If you provide financial services to designated Iranian banks -- if you process significant financial transactions for those banks -- you will face U.S. sanctions no matter where you are located," Cohen said.
Expanded Oil Sanctions
Washington also says the United States is expanding sanctions on the purchase of Iranian petrochemical products.
Many Western countries are boycotting purchases of Iranian oil due to Iran's nuclear program. The European Union once accounted for about 18 percent of Iran's oil exports, but stopped all contracts with Tehran on July 1.
Meanwhile, Washington also is pressuring Asian countries like India, China, and South Korea to stop importing Iranian oil.
Ben Rhodes, the U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, says Tehran's access to international finance -- as well as the funds it receives from exporting oil -- is becoming more restricted.
"This also comes at a time in which sanctions are having a significant impact on Iran and its economy. You, for instance, don't have to take my word for that. [Iranian] President [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad recently called these 'the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country,'" Rhodes said.
"And we see those effects across the board. We see it in the significant amount of Iranian oil that is coming off the market. We see that in the fact that Iran's currency has plummeted in value. We estimate that the rial has lost almost 38 percent of its value in the last year since we moved to ramp up our sanctions."
Cohen says the United States will continue to use every means at its disposal "to eliminate financial safe havens for Iran and increase financial pressure on the Iranian regime."
Ahmadinejad dismissed the latest U.S. moves as "ridiculous" and says Iran should respond by simply exporting more refined oil products.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is only for peaceful civilian purposes such as producing electricity and conducting medical research.
With reporting by AP and Reuters