By Anna Yukhananov
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday penalized a number of Iranian and other foreign companies, banks and airlines for violating sanctions against Tehran largely tied to its nuclear program.
U.S. officials said it was sending a signal that there should be no evasion of the sanctions while international talks continue on relaxing them in return for Iran's agreement to curb its nuclear activities.
The Treasury Department said it was targeting individuals and companies for violations including helping Iran's missile and nuclear programs, evading prior sanctions or supporting terrorism.
Companies affected included Iran's Asia Bank, Caspian Air, Meraj Air and Lissom Marine Services LLC, a shipping firm.
In a parallel move, the State Department imposed sanctions on four firms it said were helping Iran's nuclear program, as well as Goldentex FZE, a UAE-based firm working with Iran's shipping sector, and an Italian firm, Dettin SpA, which it said was working with Iran's petrochemical industry.
The sanctions freeze any assets the people and firms may hold in the United States, and effectively cuts them off from the U.S. financial system. Any foreign companies that deal with those sanctioned could also be targeted.
The U.S. actions were consistent with commitments made last November that created the conditions for the nuclear negotiations, Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
The talks began in February but Iran and the six major powers involved failed to meet a July 20 deadline to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear deal.
The six, comprising Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States and known as the P5+1, have agreed to extend the deadline to reach an agreement until Nov. 24.
Senior U.S. administration officials said enforcement of sanctions should send a message that Tehran should go to the negotiating table to obtain relief from sanctions, rather than trying to evade them.
The officials, speaking on condition they not be identified, said more than 60 people and firms had already been targeted since the parties agreed to hold comprehensive nuclear discussions.
Sanctions are blamed for weakening Iran's currency, costing it more than $100 billion in lost oil revenues, and shrinking economic growth. In the recent talks, U.S. and European negotiators have argued that without a swift nuclear deal Iran's economy will be even harder hit.
The United States and some of its allies say Iran has used its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Iran says its program is solely for peaceful purposes.
The next talks are expected to begin during the week of Sept. 15 in New York and could move up to the level of foreign ministers the following week as the U.N. General Assembly session kicks off, officials from participating countries have told Reuters.
Diplomats close to the talks say they are skeptical an agreement can be reached next month because the two sides are still so far apart on what the acceptable scope and scale of Iran's future uranium enrichment program should be.
Other companies targeted on Friday include Turkey-based Pioneer Logistics and Thailand-based Asian Aviation Logistics, which Treasury said helped the sanctioned Iranian airline Mahan Air evade restrictions on getting aircraft material.
(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau in New York, Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Parisa Hafezi in Istanbul; Editing by Andrea Ricci)