The Obama administration hit two pillars of the Iranian economy with sanctions Thursday, targeting the Islamic republic's national airline carrier and a major port company on charges that they facilitate illegal weapons trade and help the mighty Revolutionary Guard corps in destabilizing activity in Iran and nearby countries.
The Treasury Department's action blocks any assets in the United States belonging to Iran Air, Tidewater Middle East Co. and three other firms. It also prevents Americans from doing business with them.
In a joint statement, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the hardline Revolutionary Guard's use of Tidewater and Iran Air for proliferation activities was indicative of its increasing power in the Iranian economy. This displaces legitimate private Iranian companies in the commercial and energy sectors, which they called "deeply troubling."
The Revolutionary Guard serves as the "enforcer" for the Iranian regime by suppressing peaceful protests, and imports and exports weapons for the government, the secretaries said. They also blamed it for supporting terrorism in the Middle East.
The other companies sanctioned were the Mehr-e Eqtesad-e Iranian Investment Company, Iran Air Tours and the Behnam Shahriyari Trading Company. Iranian businessman Behnam Shahriyari was personally targeted for his alleged role in providing weapons to the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Although the sanctions only apply to the United States, senior Treasury and State Department officials said they hoped other countries would take a closer look at business being conducted with the companies. The U.S. is hoping authorities will halt the refueling of Iran Air planes, though non-U.S. airports are not required to take any action against the company, the officials said.
The Treasury Department says Iran Air has helped the military obtain raw materials such as titanium sheets, which can be used in support of advancing nuclear weapons. It has also transported rockets on passenger planes and taken missile components to Syria, Treasury alleges.
The airline operates about 40 aircraft flying to 35 international destinations.
The statement from Geithner and Clinton said preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a top U.S. priority. They said they remain deeply concerned about Iran's uranium enrichment program, even if the Iranian government insists it is solely designed for energy purposes.
"The international community must continue to increase and broaden the scope of pressures on Iran," the two secretaries said. "We have made important progress in isolating Iran, but we cannot waver. Our efforts must be unrelenting to sharpen the choice for Iran's leaders to abandon their dangerous course."
Tidewater manages seven ports in Iran and serves as a key element in Iran's infrastructure and transport network. Treasury says it has operations at terminals that have facilitated the Iranian government's weapons trade.
The company has no relation to Tidewater Inc., an international shipping company based in the United States.