The United States on Thursday blacklisted a major Iranian port operator and the country’s national airline, Iran Air to increase pressure on Tehran to curtail its alleged nuclear weapons program.

iran-air.jpg

Reuters) - 

Washington’s latest actions prohibit U.S. entities from any transactions with Tidewater Middle East Co., which operates seven port facilities in Iran, and Iran Air, which serves 35 international and 25 domestic destinations with a fleet of about 40 aircraft.

The Treasury’s designation of the firms as weapons proliferators also aims to freeze any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

The sanctions on Iran Air could increase difficulties in the airline’s operations that started last year when airports in many Western countries stopped refuelling Iran Air planes because of U.S. sanctions prohibiting the export of refined petroleum products to Iran.

A senior U.S. Treasury official acknowledged the action could reduce flight options for Iran’s population.

The new sanctions “may have an impact on Iranian people (but) the Iranian people are not the target of these actions,” the official told reporters.

Instead, the Treasury is trying to ratchet up pressure on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military organization that U.S. officials say is assuming control of greater parts of Iran’s economy as sanctions hamper private firms.

Iran rejects charges by Western powers it is engaged in military-linked nuclear work. The Islamic state on Tuesday said it had invited the head of the U.N. atomic energy agency to visit its nuclear facilities. Iran has rebuffed previous appeals by the U.N. body for information and access to its nuclear program to clarify allegations against it.

Treasury said Iran Air and its Iran Air Tours subsidiary were put on the sanctions list because its passenger aircraft have on numerous occasions transported military related electronic parts on behalf of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics organization. The shipments have also included missiles, rockets and titanium sheets, a dual-use material that can be used in advanced weapons systems, the Treasury said.

The Treasury official said Tidewater was blacklisted because it is owned by the Revolutionary Guards. He added that he anticipated that shippers would avoid port facilities managed by the firm due to the U.S. sanctions.

This was not expected to have a major impact on Iran’s oil trade, however, as Tidewater facilities only handle around 1 percent of Iran’s oil shipments. And other facilities at ports where the company operates will remain accessible to U.S. and other international shippers.

The Treasury said the Tidewater-managed ports have been used to export arms or handle related materiel in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, including the main Shahid Rajaee container terminal at Bandar Abbas. Other ports affected by the sanctions include the Bandar Imam Khomeini grain terminal, and facilities at Bandar Anzali, Khorramshar, Assaluyeh, Aprin and Amir Abad