U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday gave the U.S. Treasury authority to stop Syria and Iran wriggling out of sanctions by going after foreign firms, banks or individuals that ease their isolation.
“Whoever tries to evade our sanctions does so at the expense of the people of Syria and Iran, and they will be held accountable,” said David Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The executive order gives the Treasury Department the capability to publicly identify foreign individuals and entities trying to get around sanctions and bar their access to the U.S. financial and commercial systems, the department said in a statement.
Obama’s move will impose “serious consequences on foreign persons who seek to evade our sanctions and undermine international efforts to bring pressure to bear on the Iranian and Syrian regimes,” said Cohen.
A U.S. official said on condition of anonymity that prior to Tuesday’s move, the Treasury had limited powers to pursue foreigners who did not have significant interests on U.S. soil, but who undermine U.S. sanctions.
Officials say there are increasing signs that Iran and Syria, as they chafe under U.S. and other financial sanctions, are seeking to use non-bank institutions to make payments and transmit funds.
Such firms now face exclusion from lucrative U.S. markets if they do business with Iran and Syria seen as bypassing sanctions regimes.
Iran is under multiple layers of sanctions, including over alleged support for international terrorism, which target its economy, petroleum sector and financial systems after decades of antagonism with the United States.
Most recently, Washington has imposed the most stringent measures ever against Tehran’s financial sector in a bid to halt a program it says is intended to lead to nuclear weapons.
Obama signed a sanctions law in December that targets Tehran’s ability to sell crude oil.
Syria is also facing new U.S. sanctions, following the crackdown on political activists that has taken thousands of lives.
Last month, Obama unveiled measures against Syria and Iran and the “digital guns for hire” who help them oppress their people with surveillance software and monitoring technology.
The measures will hit the two governments but also companies that help create systems that track or monitor their people for killing, torture or other abuses and prevent individuals involved from entering the United States.