WASHINGTON — The United States ordered tough new penalties Monday to further pinch Iran’s financial system and encourage Israel to give sanctions more time before taking any military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

The new, stricter sanctions, authorized in legislation that President Obama signed in December, will be enforced under an order he signed only now.

They give U.S. banks new powers to freeze assets linked to the Iranian government and close loopholes that officials say Iran has used to move money despite earlier restrictions imposed by the United States and Europe.

The action against the Central Bank of Iran is more significant for its timing than its immediate effect. It comes as the United States and its allies are arguing that tough sanctions can still persuade Iran to back off what the West contends is a drive to build a nuclear bomb.

The United States and Europe want to deprive Iran of the oil income it needs to run its government and pay for the nuclear program. But many experts believe Iran will be able to find other buyers outside Europe.

The European Union announced last month it would ban the import of Iranian crude oil starting in July. The United States doesn’t buy Iranian oil, but last month it placed sanctions on Iran’s banks to make it harder for the nation to sell crude. The United States, however, has delayed implementing those sanctions for at least six months because it is worried about sending oil prices higher at a time when the world economy is struggling. Iran exports about 3 percent of the world’s oil.

The faster and more painfully sanctions can be seen to work, the better the case to shelve any plan by Israel to bomb Iran, a pre-emptory move that could ignite a new Mideast war. Taking this initial step against the Central Bank, the first time the United States has directly gone after that major institution, is one way the Obama administration can show momentum now.

Israel, meanwhile, has been increasingly open about its worry that Iran could be on the brink of a bomb by this summer and that this spring offers the last window to destroy bomb-related facilities.


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