US unveils new sanctions on Iran

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The US announced a fresh round of sanctions against Iran on Wednesday, targeting an Iranian shipping network they say is smuggling “lethal aid” to Yemen, and three agents of an Iranian airline company.

“The Iranian regime uses its aviation and shipping industries to supply its regional terrorist and militant groups with weapons, directly contributing to the devastating humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “Aviation and shipping industries should be vigilant and not allow their industries to be exploited by terrorists.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the actions that target the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, E-Sail Shipping Company, and three agents for Mahan Air.

Speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, Pompeo said the Iranian transportation companies were running programs that “involved the siphoning of funds away from the oppressed Iranian people and the augment the regime’s campaign of terror and intimidation at home and throughout the world.”

Missile concerns

The shipping companies were designated for terrorism or support for terrorism, while the Mahan Air agents were named under a designation that targets entities connected to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery, including missiles.

Iran’s missile program has become a growing source of concern in recent weeks, both in the US and Europe.

The Pentagon is considering sending 4,000 to 7,000 additional troops to the Middle East as part of an effort to beef up air defense capabilities in the face of Iranian moves that include its recent transfer of short-range missiles into Iraq, CNN has reported.

While some of the missiles may be categorized as ballistic, a US official with direct knowledge of the situation emphasized that they are very short range, without offering more details. Even so, the concern is that the Iranian missiles could pose a threat to US forces in Iraq and potentially be moved to threaten Saudi Arabia as well.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom also alleged in a joint letter released by the UN in early December that Iran has developed nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and “continues its proliferation of ballistic missile technology in the region.” Iran’s missile program is not covered under the international nuclear deal that the US left in May 2018 but that France, the UK and Germany still adhere to, along with China, Russia and the European Union.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the charge a “desperate falsehood to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum of their own JCPOA obligations.”

Last month, the US government seized weapons smuggled on a small boat destined for Yemen. The Treasury Department said Wednesday’s action against this lethal aid network “is yet another example of the US government cutting off all avenues for the delivery of weapons to Houthi rebels.”

Wednesday’s announcement follows a US sanctions announcement on Friday that targeted the Iraqi leaders of three Iran-backed militias for killing dozens of innocent civilians who were protesting economic conditions and foreign interference in their country.

The State Department’s senior official on Middle East affairs condemned Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs as he announced the sanctions. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker also decried what he described as Tehran’s increasing aggression in response to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign.

CNN’s Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne contributed to this report.