The Bush administration has imposed sanctions against seven foreign companies, including two from India and two from Russia, after accusing them of business dealings with Iran involving sensitive technology, the government said Friday.
The action comes at a sensitive time for the Bush administration, which is trying to push through Congress its plan to sell civilian nuclear technology to India. In addition, the U.S. is trying to enlist Moscow's help to pressure Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran are running high over Tehran's nuclear effort and its support for Hezbollah, the militant group at war with Israel in southern Lebanon.
The seven businesses, which also included two from North Korea and one from Cuba, were found to be in violation of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. The law is aimed at preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction to Tehran.
Under the sanctions, the federal government is now prohibited from dealing with any of the seven companies.
In the announcement of the action in the Federal Register, which reports on official federal actions, the government did not specify what items were involved. The State Department had no immediate comment.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., had received word of the planned sanctions against the Indian companies weeks ago and said the alleged violation raised questions about the administration's groundbreaking deal to sell civilian nuclear technology to India.
He criticized the administration for not disclosing the activities of the firms before the House approved the nuclear pact last month. The list of sanctioned parties was weeks overdue, but State Department officials insisted the delay had nothing to do with the House vote.
The list was turned over to the House International Relations Committee a day after the House vote. The Senate has yet to approve the nuclear pact.
The Russian Foreign Ministry described the U.S. action against the Russian firms as a "political and legal anachronism." In a statement, the ministry insisted Russian companies dealing with foreign countries act in "strict conformity with the norms of international law and Russian legislation."
The Russian companies were Rosoboronexport, a state-controlled arms exporter, and Sukhoi, a manufacturer of fighter jets.
The two Indian companies were Balaji Amines Ltd. and Prachi Poly Products Ltd., both chemical manufacturers.
Also sanctioned were Korean Mining and Industrial Development Corp. and Korea Pugang Trading Corp., both North Korean.
The Cuban company was the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.