US slaps Iran with fresh sanctions over weapons programmes

The US charges that SPND oversees nuclear-relevant research for Iran and is active in the training of new scientists.

    The new sanctions were announced while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a trip in the Middle East [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]
    The new sanctions were announced while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a trip in the Middle East [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

    The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on 14 people and 17 entities connected to an Iranian research organisation it said had played a central role in the country's past nuclear weapons effort and which remains active.

    Among those designated for sanctions was the Shahid Karimi group, which works on missile and explosive-related projects for Iran's Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, and four associated individuals, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.

    The US charges that the organisation, known by its Farsi acronym SPND, oversees nuclear-relevant research for Iran and is active in the training of new scientists.

    In 2008, the US sanctioned SPND's head, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

    The announcement coincided with a visit on Friday by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Beirut, where he was expected to focus on Lebanon's ties to the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah.

    "The US government is taking decisive action against actors at all levels in connection with Iran's Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND) who have supported the Iranian regime's defence sector," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. 

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    An administration official, who spoke on a conference call with the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, warned that any association with SPND or its subordinate groups "makes them radioactive" and open to US sanctions.

    A second official told Reuters the sanctions were aimed at trying to pressure Tehran to negotiate a more comprehensive nuclear deal with the US.

    "It is not just putting pressure on Iran to reach a diplomatic negotiated solution, we are highlighting continued existence of the SPND," the official said.

    Iran deal

    In his first year in office in 2017, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in 2015 between Iran and six world powers, which aimed to curb Iran's nuclear programme.

    France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia remain part of the nuclear agreement, despite the reimposition of sanctions by the US against Iran.

    The crux of the deal, negotiated over almost two years by the Obama administration, was that Iran would restrain its nuclear programme in return for the relaxation of sanctions that had crippled its economy.

    Trump considered it flawed because it did not include curbs on ballistic missiles or regional activity.

    Friday's steps target current SPND subordinate groups, supporters, front companies, and associated officials. The move freezes any US assets of those targeted and bans US dealings with them. 

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    "Today's action serves as a warning to individuals and entities considering dealing with the Iranian regime's defence sector in general, and SPND in particular: by engaging in sanctionable activity with designated Iranian persons, you risk professional, personal, and financial isolation," the US Treasury said in a statement.

    Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday that Tehran was determined to boost its defence capabilities despite mounting pressure from the US and its allies to curb its ballistic missile programme.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency