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U.S. acts with Europe to strengthen Iran penalties

The New York Times

By RICK GLADSTONE

The United States and Europe announced strengthened sanctions against Iran on Friday, increasing the number of blacklisted companies and individuals linked to the Iranian nuclear program, in coordinated actions that underscored the failure to resolve one of the most intractable international disputes.

Under the expanded sanctions, the Treasury Department in Washington blacklisted four companies and one person, and the European Union blacklisted 18 companies and one person. The Treasury said one of the four companies was also involved in supplying weapons to the military of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Middle East ally, who has been fighting an insurgency for nearly two years.

The steps were announced against a backdrop of uncertainty about the possible resumption of talks between Iran and the group of six big powers, which have been stalled for half a year, over Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. Despite statements from both sides this month that they were ready to re-engage, a date and place have yet to be announced. Russian news services reported Thursday that the renewed talks might be scheduled in January.

The Treasury said the additions to the sanctioned category — Iran’s SAD Import-Export Company, Chemical Industries and Development of Materials Group, Doostan International Company, Marine Industries Organization and its director, Mustafa Esbati — would now be subject to the freezing of assets and a ban on doing business with Americans. In addition, under a two-year-old law of sanctions on Iran, any foreign financial institution that does business with them risks expulsion from the American market.

In a statement, the Treasury under secretary responsible for sanctions, David S. Cohen, said SAD had also supplied material to Syrian military manufacturers of propellants for rockets, missiles and mortars. He accused the company of acting in “support of the Assad regime’s violence.”

The European Union did not immediately identify by name the additions to its Iran sanctions blacklist, saying they would be published later. But in a statement, the European Union said all the new entries had been “involved in nuclear activities or providing support to the Iranian government.”

The actions by the Americans and the Europeans capped a year in which Iran has been subjected to the most onerous Western economic penalties yet because of the nuclear dispute. The measures have severely constricted its ability to conduct international financial transactions or to sell oil, Iran’s most important export.

Iran has insisted that its operations to enrich uranium are for purely peaceful purposes. The group of six powers, comprising the five permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, the so-called P5-plus-1, has insisted that Iran must abide by numerous Security Council resolutions demanding that it halt the enrichment and satisfactorily answer questions about what the West and Israel suspect is work toward the ability to make nuclear weapons.

At the last negotiating session, in Moscow in June, there had been some signs of compromise. Iran hinted then it was willing to halt enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, considered a short technical step from bomb-grade, if sanctions were lifted and the P5-plus-1 group formally recognized Iran’s right to enrich its own nuclear fuel.

The P5-plus-1 group countered by demanding that Iran export its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and disband the underground facility where it is produced, in exchange for an outside supply of processed nuclear fuel that cannot be used for weapons, a limited easing of sanctions and vows of more relief if Iran cooperates. Iran rejected the offer.

Israeli leaders, who consider Iran to be their country’s most dangerous enemy, have said they believe Iran will have enough enriched uranium to produce a bomb by next summer. They have periodically warned of making a pre-emptive military strike on suspected nuclear targets in Iran to prevent such a possibility.