WASHINGTON – The United States announced new Iran sanctions Tuesday, targeting senior officials of three organizations for alleged support of terrorist groups, including the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Treasury Department, which announced the sanctions, also named 21 companies that it said are, in effect, front companies for Iran in its pursuit of illicit weaponry, including nuclear arms.
By publicly naming the companies, the government said it was making it easier for U.S. companies to comply with their legal obligation not to do business with the Iranian government.
Taken together, the actions reflect an Obama administration strategy of ratcheting up economic and political pressure on Iran to limit its support for Islamic extremism in the Mideast. A parallel goal is to coax Iran into international negotiations over its nuclear program.
Robert Einhorn, the State Department official who oversees the enforcement of sanctions against Iran and North Korea, told reporters in Seoul on Tuesday that the U.S. has no choice but to pressure Iran because earlier offers to negotiate were rebuffed.
"Pressure is not an end in itself," Einhorn said.
"Instead, sanctions are intended to bring Iran's leaders to the conclusion that their country would be better served by ending its noncompliance with its international obligations and starting to address serious concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions."
Iran says its nuclear program is designed to generate electricity, not build weapons.
Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said sanctions against some Iranian organizations and senior officials are meant to complicate the groups' efforts to support extremist movements in the Mideast.
"Iran has long been recognized as the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism, and Iran is by far the most prolific funder of terrorist organizations in the world," Levey said.
Asked about the Treasury actions, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the moves are in line with tactics that are beginning to have some effect on Iran's strategic thinking.
"It is getting increasingly difficult to do business in Iran," Crowley said. "The cost of doing business for Iran is going up. And we are encouraged by what we're seeing."
Still, the Iranian leadership has shown little sign of backing away from its nuclear program, insisting that no amount of international sanctions can force the Islamic republic to change course.
President Barack Obama has bipartisan support in Congress for taking a tougher approach amid growing skepticism that the Iranians can be stopped from building a nuclear bomb.
On Tuesday the top Democrat and ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said they are forming a working group to ensure that a set of U.S. sanctions signed into law by Obama on July 1 are fully implemented and effectively enforced.
Reps. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a joint statement that they believe the July 1 sanctions are already limiting Iran's access to international markets.
"We will continue to pressure and isolate Iran until it terminates its illicit nuclear weapons activities," they said. "A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable."
The sanctions announced by Levey expand the list of individuals and groups in Iran with whom Americans are not permitted to do business. The sanctions also freeze any assets of the organizations and officials that are under U.S. jurisdiction.
Treasury targeted two officers in the Qods force, an elite arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for providing money and weapons to militant groups the U.S. has designated as terrorist organizations: Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It also targeted two other officers alleged to have provided money and "material support" to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The administration asserts that the Qods force provides select members of the Taliban with weapons, money, logistical support and training.
Treasury also imposed sanctions on the director of the Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon, for what it called financial, material and logistical support to Hezbollah.
It also sanctioned the Lebanon branch of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and its director for being owned or controlled by Hezbollah and for providing Hezbollah with money and other support.
Treasury also imposed sanctions on Razi Musavi, an Iranian official based in Syria, for supporting Hezbollah.