WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan24) — The US Treasury and State Departments announced new sanctions on Wednesday, targeting the financial apparatus of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC.)
The new sanctions focus on a shipping network run by the IRGC Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Lebanese Hezbollah to sell Iranian oil: what US officials call an “oil-for-terror” network.
Also on Wednesday, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani warned that if Europe did not secure relief for Iran from the punishing US sanctions, Tehran would rollback further its compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA.)
The Treasury Department described the new Iranian sanctions in detail, explaining that they were aimed at “a large shipping network that is directed by and financially supports the IRGC-QF and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah.”
“Over the past year,” the Treasury statement continued, the network “has moved oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars or more” to support “the brutal Assad regime” in Syria, as well as “Hezbollah and other illicit actors.”
It also stated that the IRGC-QF has repeatedly attempted “to pass off Iranian cargo as Iraqi-origin.”
The Treasury Department designated 16 entities and ten individuals for supporting terrorism through such sales, while it identified 11 ships that are involved in transporting Iran’s oil.
The Treasury designations were accompanied by the announcement of large rewards—up to $15 million—from the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program for information that helps “disrupt the financial operations of the IRGC and IRGC-QF,” the State Department’s Special Representative on Iran, Brian Hook, announced on Wednesday.
That means that a wide variety of people with knowledge of the activities of the 11 ships could be eligible for large rewards. Most obviously, that would include dock workers, as well as crews on the ships carrying the illicit oil.
Gen. Rostam Qasemi is the most senior figure described by the Treasury Department on Wednesday. Qasemi was first sanctioned by the Obama administration in January 2010, and the European Union (EU) added him to its own sanctions list five months later.
In 2011, however, Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appointed Qasemi as Minister of Oil, a position Qasemi held for two years, until Ahmadinejad’s term ended, and Rouhani became president. Currently, in addition to being a senior IRGC-QF officer, Qasemi heads the Iranian-Syrian Economic Relations Development Committee.
The Treasury Department also described an Indian dimension to the illicit shipping network: the Mehdi Group. The Mehdi Group, which is based in Mumbai, “bears responsibility for crewing and managing at least seven of the vessels” used for Iran’s oil smuggling, it said.
Although the US has cut off some 80 percent of Iran’s oil exports, Tehran, nonetheless, remains defiant.
Speaking late on Wednesday, Rouhani announced, in a televised address, that Iran was about to start producing centrifuges that would accelerate its uranium enrichment.
“From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way,” Reuters quoted Rouhani as saying.
“All limitations on our research and development will be lifted on Friday,” he affirmed.
France has been trying to mediate between Washington and Tehran. “A senior Iranian delegation arrived in Paris on Monday to work out the details of a financial bailout package,” amounting to $15 billion, which France has proposed to compensate Iran for the revenue it has lost because of US sanctions, The New York Times reported. In exchange, Iran would return to compliance with the JCPOA.
However, on Wednesday, Brian Hook appeared to dismiss the French effort, saying, “There is no concrete proposal that has been generated,” while he reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to its “campaign of maximum pressure.”
“If you look at the history of this, Iran never comes back to the negotiating table” without diplomatic and economic pressure or “the threat of military force,” Hook said.
“So we will continue, as we have today, to deny the regime revenue, to drive up the costs of its malign behavior,” he added, affirming it was the US view that this “will lead eventually to talks.”
The administration has repeatedly stated it does not seek to overthrow the regime in Tehran, but, rather, to secure fundamental changes in its policies.
US President Donald Trump reaffirmed that on Wednesday, telling journalists, “We're not looking for regime change.” He also said that he was willing to meet Rouhani, who will be in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly. However, Wednesday’s statements, in both Washington and Tehran, appeared to diminish prospects for any such meeting.
Editing by Nadia Riva