US steps up sanctions on Iran’s nuke program

The Obama administration on Friday sanctioned more than two-dozen people and companies for aiding Iran’s illegal nuclear activities and violating existing sanctions against Tehran.

The State Department and Treasury Department sanctions target those who helped procure materials for Iran’s nuclear program, managed the delivery of those materials, or contributed to projects the U.S. says could help Iran to build nuclear weapons.

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the latest measures are meant to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is “exclusively peaceful.”

“Our actions today and since the start of the talks are consistent with our commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, which provided limited relief of certain sanctions in exchange for Iranian steps that halted its nuclear program and rolled it back in key respects,” she said.

The new sanctions come more than a month after the U.S. and the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) — Great Britain, Russia, China and France — agreed to extend nuclear negotiations with Iran to November.

The P5+1 agreed to provide Iran with limited, temporary and targeted sanctions relief as long as its government takes steps to curb its nuclear program. 

The ongoing talks have faced skepticism from key U.S. allies, including Israel, and on Capitol Hill. Critics say that Tehran is stalling for time and has not seriously curbed its nuclear ambitions.

The State Department sanctioned six companies on Friday including the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, whose founder has been previously sanctioned by the United Nations and has managed activities that could lead toward developing a nuclear explosive device. 

Another sanctioned company, Nuclear Science and Technology Research Institute, manages projects at Iran’s Arak heavy water research reactor. The facility is currently designed to produce plutonium that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons.

Two companies helped Iran obtain carbon fiber, which in its strongest forms, can be used to advance centrifuge technology — something Western powers want Iran to limit. Two other companies are each based in the United Arab Emirates and Italy.

The Treasury Department sanctioned 25 separate people and companies including two airlines — one of which operates commercial flights. 

U.S. citizens, the administration said, are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the sanctioned people and companies.