US imposes new sanctions over Iranian arms, cyber activity

By Arshad Mohammed and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) – The United States on Friday imposed sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile and drone procurement programs as well as officials it said were involved in hacking U.S. infrastructure, as Washington looks to increase pressure on Tehran.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement it had imposed sanctions on four Iran- and Hong Kong-based companies involved in providing materials and technology to Iran’s ballistic missile and Online Sex drone programs as well as a Hong Kong-based firm for selling Iranian commodities to Chinese entities.

The Treasury also said it placed sanctions on six officials of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Cyber Electronic Command (IRGC-CEC) for malicious cyber activities against critical infrastructure in the United States and elsewhere.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China’s embassy to the United States criticized the sanctions as “unlawful unilateral” steps.

The sanctions, announced in separate statements, represent Washington’s latest efforts to punish Tehran, whose proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and the Gaza Strip have attacked U.S. and Israeli targets.

The United States blamed a weekend attack on a U.S. base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 40 on Iran-backed militants and the Biden administration has promised a response that will include retaliatory strikes.

The weekend attack was the first to kill U.S. troops in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October after a cross-border rampage by Iran-backed Hamas militants that killed about 1,200 people.

The Treasury said it had imposed sanctions the four Iran- and Hong Kong-based entities for operating as covert procurement entities for Iran’s Pishtazan Kavosh Gostar Boshra (PKGB) and its managing director Hamed Dehghan, who it said support Iranian military organizations, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Treasury named the three Hong Kong firms it accused of being part of the procurement network for Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programs as FY International Trading Co., Limited, Duling Technology HK Limited and Advantage Trading Co., Limited.

Hong Kong-based China Oil and Petroleum Company Limited was also hit with sanctions on Friday, with the Treasury accusing it of being a front company for the IRGC´s Quds Force. The Treasury said it has arranged contracts and sold hundreds of millions of dollars´ worth of Iranian commodities and was involved in trade with China-based entities to benefit the Quds Force.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, criticized the sanctions.

“These are typical acts of putting unlawful unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction, severely undercutting Chinese interests,” Liu said. “China is deeply concerned and firmly against … such moves.”

Narin Sepehr Mobin Istatis (NSMI), an Iran-based subsidiary of PKGB, was also among those sanctioned in Friday´s action, which freezes any U.S. assets belonging to those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions with them also risk being hit with sanctions.

In a separate statement, the Treasury said it had imposed sanctions on six IRGC-CEC officials: Hamid Reza Lashgarian, Mahdi Lashgarian, Hamid Homayunfal, Milad Mansuri, Mohammad Bagher Shirinkar, and Reza Mohammad Amin Saberian. (Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Paul Grant, Arshad Mohammed and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Chizu Nomiyama and Deepa Babington)