UPDATE 1-U.S. imposes sanctions on Iran's nuclear energy chief
WASHINGTON Dec 13 (Reuters) - The United States stepped up pressure on Iran on Thursday over its nuclear program, imposing sanctions on seven companies and five individuals, including Iran's atomic energy chief.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the action would bar those companies and individuals from doing business with U.S. firms or citizens, and freeze any assets they have in the United States.
Among those sanctioned is Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and a survivor of an assassination attempt that Iranian officials have blamed on Israel. At least four scientists associated with Iran's nuclear program have been killed since 2010; Abbasi-Davani was wounded.
Iran has accused Israel and the United States of plotting the killings to set back its nuclear program. Washington has denied any U.S. role and Israel has declined to comment.
Foreign banks that handle transactions for the companies and individuals listed by the Treasury could also lose their access to the U.S. banking system under the U.S. sanctions regime.
"The U.S. will target those involved in Iran's illicit enrichment activities. The entire world has made it clear that these activities are unacceptable," Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said in a statement.
The United States has said Tehran's nuclear program is aimed at acquiring atomic weapons, a charge Iran has repeatedly denied.
The Treasury said the newly announced sanctions were aimed at targeting the international procurement operations of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company and Iran's uranium enrichment program.
Besides Abbasi-Davani, the individuals targeted by the sanctions were Seyed Jaber Safdari, Morteza Ahmadali Behzad, Amir Hossein Rahimyar and Mohammad Reza Rezvanianzadeh.
The companies placed under sanctions were Pouya Control, Iran Pooya, Aria Nikan Marine Industry, Faratech, Neda Industrial Group, Tarh O Palayesh and Towlid Abzar Boreshi Iran.