U.S. Sanctions Iran’s Central Bank, Fund After Saudi Oil Attack

WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) – The United States on Friday imposed another round of sanctions on Tehran, including on Iran‘s central bank and a development fund, following last week’s attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that Riyadh and Washington have blamed on Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump outlined the action to reporters at the White House on Friday after first announcing his plan for further sanctions earlier this week on Twitter.

The sanctions target the Central Bank of Iran, the National Development Fund of Iran and Etemad Tejarate Pars Co, an Iranian company that U.S. officials said is used to conceal financial transfers for Iranian military purchases, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.

Given previous U.S. efforts to cut off funds to Iran, it was not immediately clear how much more impact the latest sanctions would have.

Asked about the possibility of a military response on Iran, Trump said the United States was always prepared and that a military strike was always a possibility. Friday’s action is the “highest level of sanctions,” Trump said.

Iran has denied any involvement in the Sept. 14 attack, which shook global oil markets and ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Tehran. On Friday, Saudi officials took media to inspect the affected facilities.

Iran’s brazen attack against Saudi Arabia is unacceptable,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing Friday’s action.

Trump, who spoke to reporters at the White House alongside visiting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has said he wants a peaceful solution to the conflict following the weekend oil attacks. His secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has called the attacks an “act of war.”

In recent weeks, Trump had weighed the possibility of easing sanctions on Iran as he sought to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is scheduled to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week.

“We are continuing the maximum pressure campaign,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House. “This is very big. We’ve now cut off all source of funds to Iran.”

The Trump administration has imposed a wide range of sanctions on Iran after pulling out of the world powers’ 2015 Iranian nuclear pact. The sanctions are part of a U.S. campaign to increase economic pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program and was championed by former national security adviser John Bolton, who was ousted this month.

Previous U.S. sanctions have targeted Iran‘s foreign minister, its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, space agencies, and various networks Washington has said helped boost Iran‘s nuclear program, among others.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Tim Ahmann; additional reporting by Dubai newsroom, Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Chris Reese)