The United States announced on Thursday a list of companies and individuals being hit with heavy penalties for attempting to evade current sanctions on Iran, in a move that will play into the ongoing debate in Congress over whether to levy more and greater embargoes on Tehran over its nuclear program.
Thursday’s announcement from the Departments of State and Treasury designated several companies for engaging in transactions with Iran’s main shipper of crude oil, the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC). For example, Mid Oil Asia, based in Singapore, was listed for being “used by NITC to transfer funds to an Egypt-based company and to ensure the payment documents did not mention the name of the vessels or Iran, the country which owned them.” Three shipping vessels were also flagged as being of interest to one of the violators, Sirqiya Maritime Corporation.
Another 11 Iranian companies and individuals were designated as sanctions evaders for circumventing American embargoes related to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. As a result of the designations, the United States will now move to “prohibit transactions between the designees and any U.S. person, and freeze any assets they may currently have or that come under U.S. jurisdiction.” Any foreign financial institution that does business with them may likewise be blocked from accessing property under the U.S.’s jurisdiction and have their connection to the American banking system cut off.
“Today’s actions should be a stark reminder to businesses, banks, and brokers everywhere that we will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive resolution of our concerns with Iran’s nuclear program,” Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a statement. “There is no reason to think that this is a good time to do business in Iran,” one senior administration official echoed to reporters on a conference call Thursday morning.
Last month’s deal between the P5+1 — France, Germany, Russia, China, the United States, and United Kingdom — and Iran to temporarily freeze parts of Tehran’s nuclear program while negotiators work towards a comprehensive deal has been seen as hinging on whether the U.S. levies new sanctions during the six-month period given. The Obama administration has been working for weeks to prevent Congress from moving forward with new sanctions on Iran, insisting that the regime currently in place has been more than adequate to cripple the Iranian economy enough to bring them to the negotiating table. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif has likewise insisted that even a set of sanctions that wouldn’t go into effect until after the window had closed could cause the deal to unravel.
As if on cue, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Wednesday insisted that he would possibly vote against the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) if a vote wasn’t allowed on adding new sanctions to the Senate version of the bill. “My decision about the defense bill will be linked to whether or not we get a guarantee to vote on the Iranian sanctions, if we can introduce them,” Graham told reporters. “If you can convince me that there will be another path forward other than the defense bill, that will go a long way to shape my thinking.”
Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), two of the top Iran hawks in the Senate, are working on such a path, with a stand-alone bill designed to implement the sanctions that the House passed earlier this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has not said whether he will allow that bill to the floor, though Senate Banking Committee chair Tim Johnson (D-ND) has indicated that no such bill will be coming through his committee anytime soon.