By Al Arabiya with Agencies
U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order imposing stricter sanctions on Iran and its central bank, saying new powers to freeze assets were needed because Iranian banks were concealing transactions, the White House said on Monday.
The measures block all property and interests of the Iranian government, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and all Iranian financial institutions that come within U.S. jurisdiction.
Previously, U.S. institutions were required to reject, rather than block, such Iranian transactions. The new executive order gives American institutions new powers to seize assets they encounter instead of just turning them back.
“I have determined that additional sanctions are warranted, particularly in light of the deceptive practices of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks to conceal transactions of sanctioned parties,” Obama said in a letter to Congress.
He said the new powers over Iranian assets deemed to be in U.S. control – including foreign branches of American banks – were necessary because of “deficiencies in Iran’s anti-money laundering regime” as well as “the continuing and unacceptable risk posed to the international financial system by Iran’s activities.”
Heavy artillery fire has been rocking Homs, as Syrian troops step up an assault on the restive city.
A BBC correspondent there describes almost constant blasts, in the fiercest attack in the 11-month uprising.
US President Barack Obama said it was important to resolve the conflict without outside military intervention.
Meanwhile, Russia and China defended their veto of a UN draft resolution criticising Syria – a move that angered opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Later the US State Department said it had closed its embassy in Damascus and pulled out all remaining staff because of security concerns.
Washington had warned in January that it would close the embassy if the government did not step up security.
(CNN) — Intense blasts echoed through the Syrian city of Homs on Monday, just a part of the latest violence ravaging parts of the country, as world leaders sought a new strategy to end the deadly fighting.
At least 56 deaths were reported Monday by an opposition group, most of them in Homs, two days after China and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that would have demanded President Bashar al-Assad stop the violence and seek a solution to the 11-month crisis.
“They chose to side with the Syrian regime and implicitly to leave the door open to further abuses,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons on Monday.
“Such vetoes are a betrayal of the Syrian people. In deploying them, they have let down the Arab League; they have increased the likelihood of what they wish to avoid in Syria — civil war — and they have placed th