WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday imposed new sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program, blacklisting another of its state-controlled banks, companies that are fronts for its state shipping line, and more of its Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The actions are the first set of U.S. measures to implement new United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran approved last week. They prohibit U.S. transactions with the blacklisted entities and seek to freeze any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.
The Treasury also took a separate step to squeeze Iran’s energy sector by identifying some 20 petroleum and petrochemical companies as being under Iranian government control -- an action that puts them off limits to U.S. businesses under a general trade embargo.
A number of the firms are based outside of Iran and their ties to Tehran were far from obvious, Treasury officials said. They also identified two insurance companies that would fall under the trade embargo, including one based in Britain.
“Our actions today are designed to deter other governments and foreign financial institutions from dealing with these entities and thereby supporting Iran’s illicit activities,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told a news briefing.
He added that the United States planned more actions to boost financial pressure on Iran in the coming weeks.
“We will continue to target Iran’s support for terrorist organizations. We will continue to focus on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” he said. “And we will continue to expose Iran’s efforts to evade international sanctions.”
The Treasury said it added Post Bank of Iran to its list of specially designated proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, marking the 16th bank in Iran that it has sought to cut off from the international financial system.
Since Bank Sepah was sanctioned in 2007, Post Bank has stepped in to handle and disguise international transactions on its behalf, said Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Among these were a transfer worth millions of dollars to Hong Kong Electronics, a previously blacklisted firm involved in North Korea’s weapons proliferation efforts, Levey said. Previously, Post Bank only operated domestically in Iran.
The Treasury’s action also aims to thwart Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) from skirting previous sanctions against it by renaming vessels and shifting them to new front companies. It blacklisted five such companies, identified 27 new vessels blocked under the sanctions, and updated entries for 71 others that were renamed, reregistered and flying new flags.
The new Treasury sanctions also take further aim at the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, blacklisting its air force and missile commands over their activities in the development of ballistic missiles. The United States had previously sanctioned Revolutionary Guard entities over their support for terrorist activities and Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
The Revolutionary Guard has taken over increasingly large parts of Iran’s economy and “should not have any place in the world financial system,” Levey said.
Iran denies Western allegations that it is seeking atomic weapons, insisting that it only wants peaceful nuclear energy.
The U.N. resolution called for measures against new Iranian banks abroad if a connection to the nuclear or missile programs is suspected, as well as vigilance over transactions with any Iranian bank, including its central bank. It also called on countries to blacklist entities linked to IRISL and the Revolutionary Guard, and urged a cargo inspection regime like the one in place for North Korea.
The U.S. actions come as the European Union states this week are considering their own sanctions over and above the U.N. resolution, including actions against Iranian banks and insurance companies involved in trade finance. The EU package could be ready by mid-July.
The success of U.S. sanctions on Iranian entities will depend largely on whether foreign governments and businesses heed them. So far, many European banks have halted trade with firms on Treasury blacklists, and U.S. officials plan a major effort to persuade governments to support the U.S. sanctions and take similar steps.
U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman said he expects Congress to finish shortly legislation tightening U.S. sanctions on Iran that will include provisions affecting the supply of refined petroleum products to Tehran, and add to sanctions on its financial sector.
Lieberman, an independent, is a member of a House-Senate committee of negotiators working on final details of the bill and said it could pass by July 4.
“There definitely will be refined petroleum products provisions in there,” he told reporters. “I think there also will be really powerful sanctions against the financial sector in Iran.”