By Jeremy Herb - 01/23/12 09:40 PM EST
President Obama applauded new sanctions that the European Union enacted Monday against Iran over its nuclear program, and said the U.S. will continue to enforce its own sanctions on Iran passed last month.
In a statement, Obama said the sanctions demonstrate that the world is unified against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
Iran responded to the EU’s new sanctions by threatening once more to close down the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil shipping passage in the Persian Gulf. It was the same threat Iran made — and then backed away from — in December as the U.S. threatened new sanctions.
The latest sanctions and Iran's blustery responses have continued to escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The U.S. and Western allies say that Iran is attempting to obtain a nuclear weapon, while Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are only for energy production. The stepped-up sanctions are coming as Iran continues to march forward with its nuclear program, including a move earlier this month to put its uranium facilities in an underground facility.
Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Kowsari said Monday that Iran will make the world “unsafe” for the U.S., as the country “definitely” would shut down the strait if its oil sales are interrupted, according to Iran’s PressTV.
The U.S. has said closing the Strait of Hormuz is a “red line” that cannot be crossed, a statement that had appeared to have stopped Iran’s threats temporarily over the weekend, as the USS Abraham Lincoln passed through the strait without incident on Sunday.
But the news of the new European sanctions sparked a fresh round of threats Monday.
The new EU sanctions will place an embargo on new oil contracts starting July 1, and immediately ban countries from forming new contracts with Iran. European countries make up about 20 percent of Iran’s oil exports.
The U.S. sanctions, which were passed in the Defense authorization bill last month, punish foreign financial institutions that do business with the Central Bank of Iran. Initially, the Obama administration was opposed to the severity of the sanctions, which were added to the bill in the Senate.
Republicans in Congress have said that Obama should not water down the sanctions as they are implemented, and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — one of two authors of the sanctions amendment — sent a letter last week to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging the sanctions be fully imposed.
Obama said that the Treasury Department on Monday announced new sanctions against Iran’s Bank Tejerat, another state-owned bank, for its “facilitation of proliferation.”
Updated at 5:12 p.m.