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US slaps fresh sanctions on Iran’s national airline

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Washington – The U.S.

Washington – The U.S. government levied a raft of new accusations aimed at Iran and its supporters Thursday, including fresh sanctions on Iran’s national airline and indictments against international business executives accused of illicitly building up Tehran’s military.

The actions from the Justice and Treasury departments target different individuals and companies, ostensibly having arisen from different investigations. Yet they commonly signal the U.S. government’s continued attempts to go after those accused of supporting Iran and its armed forces.

In a joint statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the American government and its allies “remain fully committed to a diplomatic solution with Iran.”

“However, until Iran is prepared to engage seriously with us on such a solution, we will continue to increase pressure against Iranian entities of concern,” the two Cabinet secretaries said.

The measures include sanctions on Iran Air, which the Treasury Department says provided “material support and services” to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The guard is a leading component of Iran’s military that the U.S. government alleges has supported terrorism and committed human rights abuses against anti-government demonstrators.

The U.S. government claims rockets or missiles have been transported on Iran Air flights, including some such armored components to Syria. Airline employees allegedly are discouraged from inspecting Revolutionary Guard cargo onboard, and some members of the guard occasionally take over Iran Air Flights.

U.S. sanctions were also instituted for the Tidewater Middle East Company, which Washington claims has exported arms and gear from seven of its Iranian ports to the Revolutionary Guard.

“We have made important progress in isolating Iran, but we cannot waver,” Clinton and Geithner said in their joint statement. “Our efforts must be unrelenting to sharpen the choice for Iran’s leaders to abandon their dangerous course.”

Another facet of those efforts came out of the Justice Department on Thursday, as federal prosecutors announced they had broken up a major effort to ship parts for fighter jets and helicopter gunships to Iran in violation of U.S. arms export laws.

In a host of indictments, the federal department accused executives from companies in Florida, Illinois, France and the United Arab Emirates with illegally supplying components for U.S.-built aircraft to Iran. An Iranian company and its top officers also have been charged in the case.

“Through coordinated law enforcement efforts, we have cut off more than a branch of this illegal supply tree; we have cut off the tree at its trunk,” Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney in Macon, Georgia, said in a statement announcing the charges. The Florida-based company, the Parts Guys, kept a warehouse in Macon, according to the indictments.

The company and its president, Michael Todd, have already pleaded guilty to violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. The head of the other U.S. company named in the charges, Iranian-born U.S. citizen Hamid “Hank” Seifi, was sentenced to nearly five years in prison Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Both American firms are accused of supplying parts for 1970s-vintage warplanes and helicopters to Iran through the French company Aerotechnic and Emirates-based Aletra General Trading. Both of those companies were named in the indictments along with top executives from each, none of whom were in custody Thursday.

The parts were meant for F-4 Phantom II and F-5 Tiger jets, Huey helicopters and Cobra helicopter gunships. Iran purchased those aircraft before the 1979 revolution that toppled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a U.S. ally.

The charges disclosed Thursday include conspiracy to violate U.S. arms export laws and sanctions on Iran as well as fraud, money laundering and making false statements to investigators.

U.S. officials acknowledged the sanctions, especially, could impact individual Iranians.

A specific example is an Iranian official named Behnam Shahiryari, whom the Treasury Department levied sanctions against for his role in a shipping company linked to the Revolutionary Guard.

A senior Treasury Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity in a call with reporters, downplayed the broader impact of the move against Tidewater, adding that it wasn’t expected to affect the international oil market, as the company handles less than 1% of Iran’s crude exports.

But the official acknowledged that the sanctions against Iran Air, specifically, could negatively affect Iranians’ ability to travel. The official said that the U.S. government hopes the designation will cause Iranians to question Tehran’s refusal to abide by international norms.

“Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a top U.S. government priority, and we remain deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear intentions,” Clinton and Geithner said in their statement. “The United States is committed to a dual-track policy of applying pressure in pursuit of constructive engagement, and a negotiated solution.”