WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US Treasury Department announced additional sanctions on Iran on Friday. The sanctions apply to the Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC), which it described as “Iran’s largest and most profitable petrochemical holding group.”
PGPIC and its subsidiaries represent “40 percent of Iran’s total petrochemical production capacity,” and they produce “50 percent of Iran’s total petrochemical exports,” the Treasury Department’s announcement stated.
The sanctions include PGPIC’s “vast network of 39 subsidiary petrochemical companies and foreign-based sales agents,” it explained.
They include two businesses outside of Iran that are “owned or controlled by PGPIC”: the London based firm, NPC International, as well as a company in the Philippines, NPC Alliance Corporation, which was founded in 2005 and describes itself as “a world-class polyethylene plant.”
In addition, Treasury designated two businesses in the UAE (Atlas Ocean and Petrochemical and Naghmeh FZE) for providing support to PGPIC.
Treasury sanctioned PGPIC for providing financial support to Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, which it described as “the engineering conglomerate” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC.)
Khatam al-Anbiya—“Seal of the Prophets”—is basically a product of Iran’s eight-year long war with Iraq. After 1988, when that war ended, Khatam al-Anbiya became a money-making enterprise for the IRGC and now employs some 40,000 people.
The IRGC is quite unlike any military force in the West. Including Khatam al-Anbiya, it is broadly and deeply involved in Iran’s civilian economy, in addition to its activities in the military sector.
The IRGC has “a dominant presence in Iran’s commercial and financial sectors,” Treasury explained, “controlling multi-billion dollar businesses and maintaining extensive economic interests in the defense, construction, aviation, oil, banking, metal, automobile and mining industries.”
In short, the IRGC is an economic force, as well as a military force.
The new sanctions—one more element in the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign—come as the first inkling of possible mediation between Washington and Tehran has emerged.
On Thursday, the Japanese government announced that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would travel to Tehran next week in what will be the first visit of a sitting Japanese Prime Minister to Tehran since Iran’s revolution in 1979.
Reportedly, Abe will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on June 12 and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the following day.
The mediation effort follows heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, as the US first picked up intelligence indicating that Iran was preparing to attack US targets and then deployed additional forces to deter Iran from any hostile action.
Nonetheless, four ships, including two from Saudi Arabia, a third belonging to Norway, and a UAE-flagged vessel, were sabotaged on May 12 off the coast of the UAE. Already two days later, a team of US military experts tentatively concluded that Iran was responsible.
Read More: US team suggests Iran behind ship sabotage
The UAE led an investigation that included Norway and Saudi Arabia into the ship sabotage and reported the results of that investigation on Thursday to a closed session of the UN Security Council. Interestingly, it concluded that the aim of the attack was not to destroy the ships, but to disable them. Perhaps, the attack was meant, in part, as a probe to test the international reaction, as destroying the ships might have precipitated US retaliation.
In briefing the Security Council, the UAE noted the sophistication of the attack and concluded that, most likely, a “state actor” was behind it, although it did not name a specific state.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, however, broke ranks, stating openly that responsibility lay with Iran. “If we tolerate a symbolic attack like this,” he warned, “it opens the door for more.”
Yet Russia’s Deputy UN ambassador offered a contrary view. “We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” he said.