The U.S. Treasury Department announced a tightening of sanctions Wednesday on Iran's access to its oil revenues.
The department said the move would increase economic pressure on Iran, which has continued a nuclear programme despite the suspicions of the United States other Western powers and Israel that the Tehran aims to produce a nuclear weapon.
The tightening of the sanctions against Iran are part of legislation passed last year by the US Congress aimed at forcing Tehran to address concerns about its nuclear programme. Key provisions took effect Wednesday, expanding the range of transactions covered by sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions, the Treasury said.
As a result, Iran's ability to use oil revenue held in foreign financial institutions will be restricted, and the new sanctions prevent the repatriation of oil revenue to Iran, the Treasury said.
"Our policy is clear - so long as Iran continues to fail to address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program, the US will impose tighter sanctions and intensify the economic pressure against the Iranian regime," Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen said.
The US will target individuals in Iran who are responsible for human right abuses, especially those who deny the Iranian people basic freedoms of expression, assembly and speech, he said.
Iran is due to meet February 25 in Kazakhstan with the group of five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany - headed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton - in the next round of nuclear talks.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the meeting would "offer a real opportunity for Iran to discuss substance."
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Sunday at an international security conference in Munich that Iran is ready for direct talks with the United States on nuclear issues, as long as Washington has "fair and real intentions."
His comment came after US Vice President Joe Biden made the same offer to Tehran, with similar caveats, raising a glimmer of hope for rogress in resolving the long-simmering standoff.
The Islamic republic, which has consistently said its programme is for civilian use, told the UN nuclear watchdog agency in January that it will expand its uranium enrichment capacity.
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