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US issues crushing sanctions on major Iran banks, increasing pressure campaign

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The United States issued crushing sanctions against 18 Iranian financial institutions Thursday, days after a senior US official said the maximum pressure campaign would increase in the coming days.

“Today’s action to identify the financial sector and sanction eighteen major Iranian banks reflects our commitment to stop illicit access to US dollars,” Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin said.

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In a statement released, Mnuchin added that Washington’s sanctions programs would continue until Iran stopped supporting terrorist activities and ended its nuclear programs.

The action targets 16 Iranian banks for their role in the country’s financial sector, one bank for being owned or controlled by another sanctioned Iranian bank and one military-affiliated bank, the Treasury Department said. Some of them had been covered by previous designations but Thursday’s move places them all under the same authority covering Iran’s entire financial sector.

Critics of economic sanctions said this would threaten food and medicine supplies needed for humanitarian purposes.

Shortly after the announcement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed that the US was “conspiring to starve a population.”

However, the Treasury Department stated that Thursday’s actions “do not apply with respect to any person for conducting or facilitating a transaction for the provision (including any sale) of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices to Iran.”

Mnuchin also said that humanitarian transactions to support the Iranian people would still be allowed.

Last month, Washington activated the snapback clause of all UN sanctions on Iran, an assertion rejected by key European allies and most UN Security Council members, including Russia and China.

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- With AP