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Washington ups the ante with sanctions on Tehran Add to ...

The Bush administration slapped tough new sanctions on Tehran's ruling mullahs yesterday, raising the stakes in the looming confrontation with Iran.

Accusing Tehran of financing terrorists, seeking nuclear warheads and arming the Taliban, the Bush administration blacklisted all of Iran's major banks and the elite Revolutionary Guards, making it a crime to do business with more than 20 Iranian entities.

Among the newly blacklisted groups is the Quds Force, a Revolutionary Guard offshoot accused of supplying sophisticated triggers and explosives to the Taliban in Afghanistan, where they reportedly have been used to create powerful roadside bombs to kill Canadians and the soldiers of other NATO nations.

Iran threatens "peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon," U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice said.

Ms. Rice also lashed out at Tehran for "building dangerous ballistic missiles; supporting Shia militants in Iraq and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and denying the existence of a fellow member of the United Nations, threatening to wipe Israel off the map."

The long-expected unilateral sanctions, the toughest since the 1979 hostage-taking crisis, also reflect the impasse over Iran that has stalled further collective UN Security Council action.

Russia and China have threatened to veto any new round of sanctions on Tehran over its uranium-enrichment program, which President George W. Bush regards as an outlaw effort to build nuclear warheads and one that must be thwarted, even if it requires military intervention.

Yesterday's new sanctions will deepen the rift between Washington and Moscow over Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to ridicule them. "Why worsen the situation by threatening sanctions and bring it to a dead end?" Mr. Putin said in Portugal.

But some allies were equally quick to back the U.S. move.

"We are ready and will push for further sanctions against Iran," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Canada, which imports hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Iranian oil annually, took no position on the latest U.S. move.

"Canada already has in place restrictions to limit relations with Iran," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Rodney Moore, referring to the minimal sanctions packages agreed earlier by the Security Council.

If the "UN Security Council decides to adopt a third sanctions resolution, Canada will fully implement the restrictions," Mr. Moore added.

Given the avowed opposition of Moscow and Beijing, both veto-wielding permanent members of the council, that isn't likely.

Meanwhile, the website of the Canadian embassy in Tehran, carried the promise that "Canada will not block the initiatives of private Canadian companies to trade with their Iranian counterparts."

In announcing the new sanctions, senior Bush administration officials made it clear they were expecting co-operation from non-American banks and companies.

However, unlike the sanctions regime against Cuba, nothing in yesterday's sanctions against Iran appeared to impose penalties on non-U.S. companies.

"Iran has arranged frequent shipments of small arms and associated ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107 mm rockets, plastic explosives and probably man-portable defence systems to the Taliban," said the U.S. Treasury Department in setting out the reasons for blacklisting Quds.

Mr. Moore said: "Canada has not designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guards group as a terrorist group."

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