Full Coverages>World>Iran Nuke Issue>US

US hits Iranian firms with nuclear-tied sanctions
Updated: 2006-01-05 14:13

The United States, confronting Iran over its nuclear program, has imposed sanctions on two Iranian companies it accuses of aiding the country's atomic ambitions, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Two affiliates of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran -- the Novin Energy Company and the Mesbah Energy Company -- have been targeted under a presidential executive order that allows company assets held by U.S. persons or firms to be blocked or frozen, the officials told Reuters.

State Department officials could not immediately say exactly what, if any, specific ties the two Iranian companies had with U.S. firms or individuals.

They could also not say what effect the designations would have on the two Iranian companies. The measures were decided on December 29 and disclosed on Wednesday.

Justin Higgins, a State Department spokesman, said Novin and Mesbah both met the criteria for designation under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush's in June 2005 because they were owned by, controlled by or purport to work on behalf of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

"Novin has transferred millions of dollars on behalf of the AEOI to entities associated with Iran's nuclear program and operates largely from within the AEOI, including sharing the same address," he said.

Higgins described Mesbah as a state-owned company that functions as a front for the Iranian agency.

Defying U.S. and European demands, Iran has announced plans to resume sensitive weapons-related nuclear research and development on January 9.

One U.S. official said if Iran went ahead, the United States and its European allies would call a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Organization, and try to bring the Iran case to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose broad international sanctions.

Washington and its European partners agree the research activity "would unequivocally cross a red line," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Britain, France and Germany, with U.S. backing, have been trying to resolve the nuclear conflict diplomatically but Iran increasingly has turned its back on this process.

A leaked European intelligence report on Wednesday described Iran as combing Europe and ex-Soviet states for materials and expertise of potential use in making atom bombs.

Bush signed the executive order last June to give the U.S. government what officials called an important new tool in the effort to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

It gave the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze assets and effectively deny U.S. market access to designated weapons or missile proliferators, including foreign banks and entities that do business with them, the State Department said.

  Story Tools