The US has imposed sanctions on Iran’s biggest shipping company and largest airline for allegedly helping Tehran develop ballistic missiles in contravention of UN sanctions.
Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, on Wednesday announced the sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and its China-based subsidiary, E-Sail Shipping, as well as Mahan Air. The move is meant to “put the world on notice those who engage in illicit transactions with these companies will risk exposure to sanctions for themselves”, Mr Pompeo said. The sanctions on the entities, which are already subject to other US punitive actions, are being imposed under an executive order aimed at stopping the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). US officials hope the measures will increase pressure on other countries to sever dealings with Iran. Christopher Ford, the top state department official for international security and non-proliferation, told the Financial Times that the sanctions would have a “very significant” impact because of the widespread global concern about Iran and WMD. “Our ability to work with international partners overseas to deny Iranian shippers access to particular ports, or prevent transactions, is much more diplomatically persuasive when we are able to identify weapons of mass destruction or missile-related proliferation as the gravamen of the complaint,” Mr Ford said.
The sanctions are the latest salvo in the US’s maximum pressure campaign aimed at persuading Iran to replace the 2015 nuclear accord jettisoned by Donald Trump. The US president has offered to open talks, but Tehran refuses to engage while under sanctions. Iran has also taken steps to unravel the deal in an effort to pressure EU signatories to offset the impact of the sanctions. But the US has made it almost impossible for others to help Iran through a raft of sanctions intended to put economic pressure on Tehran. The latest sanctions come three months after the US and European powers blamed Iran when a Saudi oil facility was hit with cruise missiles. Brian Hook, the top state department official for Iran, said the sanctions were designed to curb Iranian missile activities that have stoked tensions in the region. “We’ve seen an expansion under the Iran nuclear deal of Iranian ballistic missile testing and proliferation. This is relevant when we see the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia blown up by Iranian missiles,” Mr Hook said. Just a few days ago, Mr Hook secured the release of Xiyue Wang, a US graduate student jailed in Iran for alleged espionage, in exchange for an Iranian scientist held in the US. Mr Hook said that the swap was not a sign that the US would ease the pressure. “We got Xiyue Wang out with no sanctions relief, no pallets of cash, and no change in policy,” Mr Hook said. “We’re going to continue just as we have with two tracks — the humanitarian and consular side, and maximum economic pressure. We’ve said we’re not going to stop doing sanctions until we have a comprehensive deal.”
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