WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is slapping sanctions on Iran's ministry of intelligence and security, asserting that it supports global terrorism, commits human rights abuses against Iranians and participates in ongoing repression in Syria.
The Treasury Department announced Thursday that it added the ministry to its list of specially designated global terrorists. The step freezes any assets the group may have in U.S. jurisdictions, bars Americans from doing business with it and bans ministry employees from travel to the United States. The effect of the sanctions will be largely symbolic as it is not known to have holdings in the U.S.
The announcement said the ministry had helped al Qaeda agents in Iran and provided them with identity cards and passports and had given money and weapons to al Qaeda in Iraq.
Meanwhile, senior Israeli officials sent rare mixed messages Thursday about the effectiveness of Western sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to suspend its nuclear research program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the sanctions imposed on Iran, while important, haven't yet been effective, while his defense minister and vice premier said sanctions are strong and have the Iranians panicking.
Israel, along with most of the West, accuse Iran of pursuing atomic weapons -a claim Tehran denies. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be a threat to its very existence, citing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for Israel's destruction and Iran's support for anti-Israel militant groups.