Obama, State of the Union address
U.S. President Barack Obama speaking during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 24, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order imposing stricter sanctions on Iran and its central bank, saying new powers to freeze assets were needed because Iranian banks were concealing transactions, the White House said on Monday.

"I have determined that additional sanctions are warranted, particularly in light of the deceptive practices of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks to conceal transactions of sanctioned parties," Obama said in a letter to Congress.

He said the new powers over Iranian assets deemed to be in U.S. control - including foreign branches of American banks - were necessary because of "deficiencies in Iran's anti-money laundering regime" as well as "the continuing and unacceptable risk posed to the international financial system by Iran's activities."

Previously, U.S. banks were required to reject, rather than block and freeze, Iranian transactions. The new executive order gives American institutions new powers to seize assets they encounter instead of just turning them back.

The U.S. Treasury Department said the expanded sanctions would affect assets of all Iranian ministries and state-owned entities, including the central bank that processes Iran's oil revenues.

"These actions underscore the administration's resolve to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its failure to meet its international obligations," it said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday that the order is "reflective of the policy that we've taken for quite a long time now in reaction to Iranian behavior, which is essentially a dual track where we continue to have an offer to the Iranians that if they get serious about their international obligations, if they agree to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions, then there is an option for them to rejoin the international community."

When asked about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, Carney said that "the president made clear that our level of cooperation with Israel, militarily and in intelligence matters, has never been higher. We've made that point repeatedly, because I think it demonstrates this country's commitment to Israel's security. But obviously Israel's a sovereign country, and it has very legitimate concerns about Iran's development of a nuclear weapons capacity, and we share those concerns."