GENEVA - Switzerland has extended financial sanctions against Iran but stopped short of freezing the assets of Iran's central bank and imposing an oil embargo, pointing to an emerging policy rift with other Western powers over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The Swiss Federal Council (cabinet) has opted to freeze the assets of eight companies and three individuals in a move which it said put it largely in line with restrictive measures voted by the European Union in January.

But the Swiss Economics Ministry, which is involved in sanctions policy, said in the statement that the country would not follow the EU in freezing the assets of the Iranian central bank "due to its importance for the Iranian economy."

The EU has gradually tightened financial restrictions on Iran and on Jan. 23 agreed to phase in an oil embargo and to freeze the assets of Iran's central bank in an effort raise pressure on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.

The Swiss ministry said it would make a decision on the EU's ban on the import, purchase or shipping of Iranian crude oil at a "later date," without giving specifics.

While Switzerland does not directly import Iranian oil, the Swiss position on the EU oil embargo could impact the activities of oil companies based in the trading hub of Geneva.

Switzerland is only bound to enforce UN Security Council decisions on a national level, although in recent years it has tended to copy EU sanctions to harmonize its laws with those of its main trading partners.

As a neutral intermediary, non-EU Switzerland has represented US interests in Iran since 1980 following the Islamic revolution a few months earlier.

The Federal Council took the decision at a meeting on April 4, before world powers met Tehran negotiators for talks in Istanbul at the weekend on Iran's nuclear program.

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