US to sanction nearly 12 companies, Iranian officials over ballistic-missile program – report

US Treasury Building in Washington, DC. © Karen Bleier
The US is preparing new sanctions against nearly a dozen companies and individuals in Iran, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates over their suspected role in contributing to Iran’s ballistic-missile program, US officials told the Wall Street Journal.

According to the newspaper, the Treasury Department is working on the sanctions, which would target five Iranian officials and two Iran-linked networks, along with foreign nationals and companies. The Obama administration alleges that all of them have been involved in developing Iran’s missile program in one way or another.

The list of affected parties includes Dubai-based Mabrooka Trading Co. and its founder Hossein Pournaghshband; Hong Kong-based Anhui Land Group Co; Sayyed Javad Musavi, commercial director of Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group; as well as a total of seven officials from Iran’s Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics, or MODFAL.

The US suspects that Mabrooka Trading Co and Pournaghshband have been aiding Iranian state companies in acquiring carbon fiber, an essential element in missile development due to its flexibility and ability to endure extreme heat. Pournaghshband has also allegedly used Anhui Land Group Co as a subsidiary to acquire materials and financing for carbon-fiber production, the WSJ reported.

The seven MODFAL individuals include Musavi, commercial director of Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which is a subsidiary of Iran’s Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics. Sayyed Medhi Farahi and Seyed Mohammad Hashemi, two of the ministry’s senior members, are also said to be targeted.

While the Treasury has not provided the reasoning for the new penalties, the Journal reported that it could have to do with alleged collaboration between Iran and North Korea on missile development over the past two years, in which the Islamic country bought components from Pyongyang’s state-owned Korea Mining Development Trading Corp and Tehran has sent staff to the hermit state.

The sanctions would ban both US and foreign nationals from dealing with either of the targeted entities, while US banks would have to freeze any of those companies’ or individuals’ assets inside the American financial system.

If the pending measures of the Treasury come through, they would be the first sanctions imposed on Iran by the US since the two struck a deal restricting Iran’s nuclear program this July.

Iran earlier warned the US that its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, would consider any financial penalties a violation of the nuclear agreement. However, the WSJ says the Obama administration views activities linked to missile development as separate from the nuclear deal.

The Iranian government has not commented on the possible new sanctions, the newspaper said.

Iranian diplomats have already accused the US of breaching the nuclear deal. In the wake of the San Bernardino, California shooting, Congress passed legislation requiring any foreign national who has visited Iran or Syria to obtain a visa before entering America.

Despite the July agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 group, the situation remains tense. Iran has test-fired two ballistic missiles since the deal came into effect. One of the tests was carried in October and a second in November, US officials said.

According to Reuters, which claims to have seen a confidential report by UN sanctions monitors, a medium-range Emad rocket that Tehran fired on October 10 was capable of delivering a nuclear warhead and, thus, a violation of a UN Security Council resolution.

Tehran has said the missile tests were conducted in accordance with UN regulations, and that the missiles are conventional and defensive in nature.

On Tuesday, the US military expressed outrage over Iranian ships firing rockets in the Strait of Hormuz, as the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier was reportedly passing by 1,500 yards away (1,371 meters). US Central Command called the missile drill “provocative, unsafe, and unprofessional.”

General Ramezan Sharif, spokesman for Iran's Revolutionary Guard, has denounced the claim as propaganda. 

"The Guard's Navy had no drills in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz and didn't fire missiles or rockets during the past week and the time claimed by the Americans," Sharif said in a statement. "Publication of such false news under the present circumstances is more of a psychological warfare."