U.S. targets airlines in latest Iran sanctions move

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on several Iranian and Turkish companies and a number of aircraft in a move targeting four Iranian airlines.

The companies targeted were linked to Mahan Air and Meraj Air, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement. It also said it was targeting a number of their aircraft, as well as aircraft from Caspian Airlines and Pouya Air.

The United States said the airlines had ferried weapons, fighters and money to proxies in Syria and Lebanon. Washington also threatened sanctions against those granting landing rights and providing services to the aircraft.

“The deceptive practices these airlines employ to illegally obtain services and U.S. goods is yet another example of the duplicitous ways in which the Iranian regime has operated,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The airlines were not immediately available for comment.

Washington also targeted three individuals, one from Turkey and two from Iran, who it said were linked to the airlines and aviation firms.

The sanctions were the latest in the United States’ efforts to economically strangle Iran with the hopes of blocking the country’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, the United States withdrew from a 2015 nuclear accord that had lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program, dismaying U.S. allies who want to preserve it.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran is compliant with the deal, but U.S. President Donald Trump said the entire accord is flawed because restrictions lapse over time and it does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program or Tehran’s role in regional conflicts.

On Tuesday, the United States imposed sanctions on five Iranians it said had provided Yemen’s Houthi movement with weaponry and expertise to launch missiles at cities and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s supreme leader has laid out a number of conditions for Tehran to stay in the deal, and senior officials from the countries still in it -- China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United Kingdom -- are meeting in Vienna on Friday to discuss the next steps.

Reporting by Tim Ahmann and Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft