Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration targeted companies and individuals today for evading international sanctions against Iran and supporting the country’s nuclear program, a move aimed in part at dissuading Congress from imposing additional trade penalties.
The Treasury Department said it was freezing assets and banning transactions of entities that attempt to evade the sanctions, including by doing business with the National Iranian Tanker Co., Iran’s primary shipper of crude oil.
“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,” David Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
The companies designated today as sanctions violators include Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co., an Iranian company that the Treasury said was involved in procuring sensitive items for use in Iran’s centrifuge program, and the Exploration and Nuclear Raw Materials Production Co., a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which was cited for overseeing uranium discovery, mining, and mineral processing operations in Iran.
The Treasury also said it targeted companies, including Singapore-based Singa Tankers, for providing support to the National Iranian Tanker Co.
The announcement came on the same day that Cohen and Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s under secretary for political affairs, appeared at a Senate Banking Committee hearing to make the Obama administration’s case against enactment of more sanctions during the six months of an interim agreement between Iran and world powers made in Geneva. It provides for a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions.
Adding fresh sanctions while talks are under way would hurt relations with allies who have helped the U.S. and undermine Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Sherman said.
“Countries around the world have actually followed through on what quite frankly are unilateral sanctions on our part as well as the UN Security Council sanctions and the EU sanctions,” Sherman said. “If new sanctions passed, the hard-liners will tell Rouhani, ‘See, we can’t trust the U.S.’”
Comments by committee members, including some who have been leading advocates of more sanctions, indicated a growing sense that Congress won’t move to expand sanctions over the administration’s objections.
“I realize that we’re sort of going through a rope-a-dope here in the Senate,” Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said. “We are not going to do anything.”
Senator Tim Johnson, the South Dakota Democrat who heads the banking panel, said, “We should not do anything counterproductive that might shatter Western unity on this issue. We should make sure that if the talks fail, it was Iran that caused their failure.”
Johnson said he and Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the banking committee, have negotiated a bill that could be put into effect if Iran doesn’t comply with the Geneva agreement or negotiations collapse.
Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading proponent of sanctions in the past, said he’s starting to think “that maybe what the Senate needs to do is define the end game” for negotiations with Iran and what it would accept as the “final status” through a resolution.
On enforcement of existing sanctions, Cohen said in his testimony that the Treasury have warned companies, especially in the oil industry, against doing deals with Iran on the chance that sanctions may loosen.
“We are very actively dissuading international oil companies and others who think that now may be a time to test the waters in Iran,” Cohen said.
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