Trump hits Iran with new sanctions related to nuclear ambitions

Trump hits Iran with new sanctions related to nuclear ambitions

US piles pressure on with restrictions targeting 31 Iranian scientists, technicians and companies affiliated with Iran's Organisation for Defence Innovation and Research

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif‏
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif‏

The Trump administration has hit Iran with new sanctions as secretary of state Mike Pompeo denounced Tehran’s growing influence on a visit to Lebanon.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions target 31 Iranian scientists, technicians and companies affiliated with Iran’s Organisation for Defence Innovation and Research, which were at the forefront of the country’s former nuclear weapons programme.

Officials said those targeted continue to work in Iran’s defence sector and form a core of experts who could reconstitute that programme.

Fourteen people, including the head of the organisation, and 17 subsidiary operations are covered by the sanctions.

They freeze any assets those targeted may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from any transactions with them.

Officials said the move will also make those targeted “radioactive internationally” by making people of any nationality who do business with them subject to US penalties under so-called secondary sanctions.

Secondary sanctions apply to foreign businesses and individuals and can include fines, loss of presence in the American economy, asset freezes and travel bans.

Officials said the threat of such sanctions will significantly limit the ability of those designated to travel outside Iran, participate in research conferences or be hired for other jobs.

“Individuals working for Iran’s proliferation-related programmes – including scientists, procurement agents and technical experts – should be aware of the reputational and financial risk they expose themselves to by working for Iran’s nuclear programme,” the State Department said in a statement.

The move is unusual because the sanctions are not being imposed based on what those targeted are currently doing.

They are being imposed because of past work on nuclear weapons development and the potential that they would be at the forefront of any Iranian attempt to restart that programme.

Tehran pledged not to resume atomic weapons work under the 2015 nuclear deal and the UN’s atomic watchdog says Iran continues to comply with the agreement.

The US pulled out of the agreement last year, saying it was fatally flawed and allowed Iran to gradually begin advanced atomic work over time.

The Trump administration has reimposed US sanctions that were eased under the terms of the deal and is continuing to impose new ones as part of a campaign to force Tehran to renegotiate the agreement.

Officials said the decision to move ahead with the sanctions was in part based on Israel’s recovery of what it and the US call a “secret archive” of documents from Iran that they say shows Tehran deliberately preserved and stored its early nuclear weapons work, known as the “Amad plan”, with the intent to one day resume development of a bomb.

The announcement came as Mr Pompeo was in Beirut warning Lebanese officials to curb the influence of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

He says Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation and should not be allowed to set policies or wield power despite its presence in Lebanon’s parliament and government.

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