Obama tightens penalties on Iran, Syria regimes for avoiding American-mandated sanctions

President Obama speaks during a news conference April 30, 2012, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. AP Photo

Updated at 4:31 p.m. ET

(AP) WASHINGTON - President Obama is tightening penalties on foreign entities and individuals who try to evade sanctions on Iran and Syria.

Mr. Obama authorized the penalties in an executive order signed Tuesday. The administration said he took the step in response to efforts by the Iranian and Syrian governments to avoid the consequences of U.S.-mandated sanctions.

The executive order gives the Treasury Department the capability to publicly identify foreign individuals and entities that try to sidestep the restrictions. The new penalties also bar violators from accessing the U.S. financial and commercial systems.

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The administration said that as the U.S. and other countries have increased sanctions pressures on Iran and Syria, both countries have sought to use non-bank financial institutions and other alternative methods to transmit funds and make payments.

David Cohen, Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that the executive order will provide another tool for the administration to impose "serious consequences on foreign persons who seek to evade our sanctions and undermine international efforts" to bring pressure on the governments of Iran and Syria.

Cohen said the executive order was needed to better reach third parties that Iran and Syria may be trying to enlist in efforts to get around the current sanctions.

Treasury said in a fact sheet that the executive order also would help to ensure that U.S. citizens did not unwittingly engage in transactions with foreign groups trying to help the two nations.

The sanctions imposed against Iran are aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The sanctions against Syria are aimed at forcing Syrian President Bashar Assad to end more than a year of deadly violence in that country.

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