By JOHN HEILPRIN
The Swiss government has extended its financial sanctions against Iran by freezing the assets of 11 more companies and people but decided not to take any action against Tehran’s central bank, officials said Wednesday.
The action against an additional eight companies and three individuals was carried out Tuesday and “brings Switzerland largely in line with the restrictive measures” the European Union adopted in January, the Swiss Cabinet said. The move aims to pressure Iran to comply with U.N. demands over its controversial nuclear program.
But an exception to the EU’s measures “was made for the Iranian Central Bank, upon which sanctions have not be imposed, due to its importance for the Iranian economy,” the Swiss government said.
It did not identify the targeted companies and individuals.
Iran’s denials of military intent for its uranium enrichment have failed to convince EU and U.S. officials.
The Swiss have previously frozen Iranian accounts in Switzerland because of U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program. Iran has been subject to U.N. sanctions primarily for refusing to stop a nuclear enrichment program.
Swiss banks have repeatedly been accused of allowing firms and individuals close to the Iranian government to conduct business through Swiss accounts.
The EU has banned the purchase of Iranian oil and frozen the assets of its central bank _ and Iran threatened to retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s crude is transported.
The EU’s 27 foreign ministers had described their tighter sanctions as an attempt to pressure Iranian officials into resuming talks on the country’s nuclear program. They included an immediate embargo on new contracts for crude oil and petroleum products, but existing contracts with Iran were allowed to run until July.
In December, the United States enacted new sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad, but it delayed implementing the sanctions for at least six months out of worry about sending the price of oil higher while the global economy struggles.
Swiss officials, however, noted the EU’s financial sanctions were extended immediately upon their approval in January, “whereas other restrictive measures, for example a ban on the import, purchase or shipping of Iranian crude oil, petroleum products and petrochemical products” were not imposed until late March.
Iran enriches uranium at 3.5 and 20 percent. The West suspects Iran is preparing to make nuclear weapons, but Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes like generating electricity.
Iran has several nuclear sites, including a nuclear power plant under power generation tests. It is working on enrichment facilities and is building a heavy water reactor.
Iran has hinted at more flexibility lately. It will hold more talks on its controversial nuclear program following discussions last weekend with world powers in Istanbul, which both sides praised as positive. A second round is planned for next month in Baghdad.
After Istanbul, Iranian officials urged the West to start taking steps to lift sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU over Iran’s nuclear activities.