WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States sought to increase pressure on Iran over its nuclear program on Wednesday by imposing sanctions against its national maritime carrier and 18 affiliates, targeting much of its shipping sector.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Iran’s national maritime carrier, and the affiliates provided logistical support for Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics and that they lied about their activities.
The department said it was banning any transactions between U.S. citizens and IRISL and its affiliates and would try to freeze any assets the companies have under U.S. jurisdiction.
The sanctions are the latest U.S. step to raise pressure against Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for atomic power plants or for nuclear weapons.
The United States, and some of its allies, accuse Iran of working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has said that its atomic program is to produce electricity.
“Not only does IRISL facilitate the transfer of cargo for U.N.-designated proliferators, it also falsifies documents and uses deceptive schemes to shroud its involvement in illicit commerce,” Stuart Levey, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
He accused Iran of a broad pattern of lies and deception to advance its nuclear and missile programs.
Iran’s UN Mission said the new sanctions were another display of U.S. hostility toward Iran based on false claims about Tehran’s nuclear program.
“Such actions on the part of the United States are counterproductive, will not help in finding a solution to resolving any issues, and would only make the situation more complicated,” the mission said in a statement.
IRISL is a global operator with a worldwide network of subsidiaries and connects Iranian exporters and importers with South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
U.S. officials said they hoped the sanctions would make major insurance companies and others think twice before dealing with IRISL.
Major powers are pursuing a two-track strategy toward Iran, by offering economic and diplomatic inducements to suspend uranium enrichment and threatening more U.N. and bilateral sanctions if it does not.
A senior Treasury official, Adam Szubin, said the sanctions would not have a major impact on oil exports by Iran, the world’s fourth-biggest exporter of crude, because IRISL was not a primary carrier of its petroleum exports.
IRISL has long been in the cross hairs of Western intelligence agencies, diplomats in New York have said.
A U.N. Security Council Resolution adopted in March called on countries to inspect the cargoes of IRISL vessels and Iran Air Cargo aircraft if they suspected they might contain banned items usable in Tehran’s nuclear or missile programs.
Asked if Iran Air Cargo may face similar sanctions, senior Treasury official Daniel Glaser said: “The U.N. has identified this entity as an entity that we should concerned about.”
The U.N. Security Council has passed three resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran for its failure to suspend uranium enrichment. Russia and China are both believed to be reluctant to pass a fourth resolution.
The political directors from Germany and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members -- Britain, China, France Russia and the United States -- plan to meet in Washington next week to discuss Iran and other matters, a U.S. official said. (Editing by Kristin Roberts and Vicki Allen)