WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday sought to further tighten curbs against Iran's nuclear ambitions and its support for terror groups by naming Iranian-controlled companies and forbidding dealing with them.
In addition to naming the 21 companies, Treasury cited leaders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) for providing financial support to the Taliban and other groups.
"Iran is the primary founder of Hizbollah and has long been recognized as the most active state sponsor of terrorism," Treasury said, adding that it was targeting IRGC-QF by naming four of its senior officers.
Among the four, it said General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hasan Mortezavi were providing financial and material support to the Taliban. The Treasury Department had previously designated the IRGC-QF in October 2007 as an organization that supported terror groups but went a step further on Tuesday by naming its leaders.
The department also listed 21 companies or entities in six countries -- engaged in businesses as far-flung as banking, mining and engineering -- that it said were Iranian-controlled.
U.S. law prohibits Americans from doing business with the government of Iran. The Obama administration said it was naming the firms so that people can more easily avoid the risk of dealing with them and accidentally violating sanctions against trade with Iran.
"As its isolation from the international financial and commercial systems increases, the government of Iran will continue efforts to evade sanctions, including using government-owned entities around the world that are not easily identifiable as Iranian to facilitate transactions in support of their illicit activities," said Stuart Levey, Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
At a briefing, Levey described Iran as "by far the most prolific funder of terrorism in the world."
The 21 companies are in Japan, Germany, Italy, Belarus, Luxembourg and Iran and are not easily recognized from their names as being Iranian-controlled. For example, one of them is a Tokyo-based company called Ascotec Japan K.K. and another is a Hamburg, Germany-based company called West Sun Trade GmbH.
Treasury also added two Iranian organizations -- the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon and the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (IKRC) Lebanon branch -- to its terrorism blacklist.
The action, under an executive order, freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits Americans and U.S. firms from engaging in any transactions with them.
"Today's designations expose Iran's use of its state apparatus-including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force-and state-run social service organizations to support terrorism under the guise of providing reconstruction and economic development assistance or social services," the Treasury said.
At the White House on Tuesday, spokesman Robert Gibbs was dismissive of a call from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a televised debate with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss who has the best solutions for world problems.
"We have always said we would be willing to sit down and discuss Iran's illicit nuclear program if Iran is serious about doing that," Gibbs said, adding "To date, that seriousness has not been there."
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Glenn Somerville; Editing by Bill Trott