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US issues sanctions on Iran’s missile program amid nuclear talks

The Biden administration on Wednesday issued sanctions against an Iranian network officials say funds Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

The move came in response to rocket attacks this month that targeted U.S. officials in Iraq and struck inside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Brian Nelson, under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the sanctions target Iran’s development and use of ballistic missiles even as the administration is indirectly talking with Iranian officials to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  

“While the United States continues to seek Iran’s return to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will not hesitate to target those who support Iran’s ballistic missile program,” Nelson said in a statement. “We will also work with other partners in the region to hold Iran accountable for its actions, including gross violations of the sovereignty of its neighbors.”

The sanctions target one Iranian individual, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, and a network of companies that the Treasury Department says Hosseini runs and that procures materials to support the ballistic missile and weapons program of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite security unit of Iran’s armed forces that the U.S. sanctioned as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019.

The Biden administration is reportedly preparing to lift the terrorist designation on the IRGC as part of efforts to return both the U.S. and Iran to compliance with the JCPOA. Former President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, and Iran violated the terms of the agreement in 2019.  

Nearly a year of indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran have stalled amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia, a participant in the JCPOA and one of the key intermediaries between U.S. and Iranian negotiators, had earlier raised new demands on the deal related to sanctions imposed on Moscow over its war in Ukraine. While Russia withdrew its demands, momentum on announcing a return to the deal has slowed. 

The administration views the JCPOA as the best chance of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and delaying the time frame it would require for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon, though Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. 

Yet critics of the deal say the terms do not go far enough in addressing Iran’s malign activities and that sanctions relief built into the JCPOA will bankroll Tehran’s terrorist attacks. 

The administration is seeking to balance the sanctions relief required by a return to the JCPOA with increasing pressure on Iran over its ongoing attacks. It has also said it would use a return to the JCPOA to negotiate a “longer and stronger” deal to address Tehran’s terrorist activities and weapons program.  

The sanctions issued Wednesday came in response to an Iranian missile attack on March 13 on the city of Erbil, in Iraqi-Kurdistan, where nearly a dozen rockets struck near the U.S. Consulate building. The IRGC said in a statement to Iranian state media that the attack served as a warning to Israel, following Jerusalem’s reported killing of Iranian fighters in Syria.  

The Treasury Department said the sanctions also came in response to attacks launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, against a Saudi state oil facility on March 25 and other missile attacks targeting inside Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

Tags Donald Trump Iran Iran nuclear deal JCPOA Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Trump

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