The Obama administration on Wednesday slapped new sanctions on several affiliates of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps amid stepped-up efforts to get U.N. penalties against Tehran because of its nuclear and missile programs.
The Treasury Department said it was targeting one person and four companies for penalties over their alleged involvement in producing and spreading weapons of mass destruction. The agency said it was freezing the assets in U.S. jurisdictions of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Rostam Qasemi and four subsidiaries of a previously penalized construction firm that he runs.
The sanctions made public Wednesday expand existing U.S. unilateral penalties against elements of the Guard Corps, or IRGC, which Western intelligence officials believe is spearheading Iran's nuclear program.
The announcement came as U.S. officials lobby for action at the U.N. Security Council, which has already hit Iran with three sets of sanctions. The Obama White House wants to impose fresh international sanctions over Tehran's failure to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.
Qasemi commands the Guard Corps' Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, which Treasury described as its engineering arm that is involved in the construction of streets, tunnels, waterworks, agricultural projects and pipelines. Its profits "are available to support the full range of the IRGC's illicit activities, including WMD proliferation and support for terrorism," Treasury said in a statement.
Khatam al-Anbiya was hit with U.S. sanctions by the Bush administration in 2007. Wednesday's penalties apply to Qasemi and Khatam al-Anbiya subsidiaries, the Fater Engineering Institute, the Imensazen Consultant Engineers Institute, the Makin Institute and the Rahab Institute.
"As the IRGC consolidates control over broad swaths of the Iranian economy, displacing ordinary Iranian businessmen in favor of a select group of insiders, it is hiding behind companies like Khatam al-Anbiya and its affiliates to maintain vital ties to the outside world," said Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
"Today's action exposing Khatam al-Anbiya subsidiaries will help firms worldwide avoid business that ultimately benefits the IRGC and its dangerous activities," he said.
Treasury's move followed a tough new warning to Iran from President Barack Obama, who said on Tuesday that the country remains on an "unacceptable" path to nuclear weapons, despite its denials, and that the U.S. and like-minded countries would soonat the United Nations.
His comments came in response to Iran's announcement that it was rejecting a deal it provisionally accepted in October under which it would ship low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enriching for use in a Tehran medical research reactor. On Sunday, Iran said it would would produce its own higher-enriched uranium. On Tuesday, Iranian state television said the process began in the presence of inspectors from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
Mr. Obama said he was sticking to a two-track approach: offering to negotiate, while threatening further pressure. He said the world would welcome an Iranian decision to accept U.N. demands that it live up to its nuclear control obligations.
"And if not, then the next step is sanctions," he said. "They have made their choice so far, although the door is still open. And what we are going to be working on over the next several weeks is developing a significant regime of sanctions that will indicate to them how isolated they are from the international community as a whole."
Mr. Obama said that work to broaden the U.N.'s sanctions was moving quickly, but he gave no specific timeline for the presentation of a new resolution. Russia, a traditional opponent of sanctions, appears ready to support new penalties. But another of the council's five permanent, veto-wielding members, China, which has increasingly close economic ties to Iran, can block a resolution by itself. China has said the time is not yet right for fresh sanctions.