TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Tuesday placed Iran's third-largest bank on a blacklist for allegedly having helped Tehran develop its nuclear programme, following up on similar moves by the United States and the European Union announced in January.
The addition of state-owned Bank Tejarat takes to 21 the number of Iranian banks with which Japan has suspended its correspondent banking ties, the government said in a statement.
Tokyo's sanctions do not include the central bank of Iran, although Japan, Iran's third biggest crude oil customer after China and India, is looking to cut its dependence on the OPEC member under pressure from the EU and the United States.
Western sanctions are hampering Iran's ability to sell its crude oil, which generates most of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Iran is the world's 5th largest oil exporter and the second-biggest OPEC producer after Saudi Arabia.
South Korea, Japan and other U.S. allies have been scrambling to voluntarily reduce Iranian oil imports in hopes of winning waivers from penalties imposed by a new U.S. law on Iran sanctions that takes effect this year.
The law, signed by President Barack Obama on Dec 31 in his latest effort to pressure Tehran over its nuclear programme, targets foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank or other blacklisted Iranian financial entities.
Obama has until March 30 to decide whether the price and supply levels of non-Iranian oil and fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel in global markets are sufficient for countries to "significantly" reduce their Iranian purchases.
(Reporting by Risa Maeda;Editing by Clarence Fernandez)