White House slaps sanctions on Iranian shipping network

Sept. 5 (UPI) — The Trump administration imposed sanctions against a large shipping network that Iran created to transport and obfuscate the sale of its oil and offered a reward of $ 15 million to anyone with information that disrupts the network’s operations.

“Today’s announcement is historic,” Special Representative for Iran and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State Brian Hook said during a press briefing Wednesday. “It’s the first time that the United States has offered a reward for information that disrupts a government entity’s financial operations.”

The sanctions affect 16 entities, 10 individuals and 11 shipping vessels that participate in the network, which the U.S. Treasury Department said shipped over $ 500 million in Persian oil over the past year for the benefit of the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah and other “illicit actors.”

The Treasury said the network is directed by and supports the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, a branch of the Iranian military designated by the Trump administration as a terrorist group in April.

“The IRGC trains, funds and equips proxy organizations across the Middle East,” Hook said. “Iran wants these groups to extend the borders of the regime’s revolution and sow chaos and sectarian violence. We are using every available diplomatic and economic tool to disrupt these operations.”

The United States said the IRGC uses its elaborate network to obfuscate its involvement in the illicit activities. The sanctions block all property and interests of those named while prohibiting U.S. citizens from conducting business with them at the risk of also being penalized with sanctions.

“Iran continues to take provocative actions to destabilize the region and the world,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “Treasury’s action against this sprawling petroleum network makes it explicitly clear that those purchasing Iranian oil are directly supporting Iran’s militant terrorist arm.”

The IRGC relies on front companies and broker associated contracts to sell the oil, which has come under increasing U.S. sanctions in the past 2 years, the Treasury Department said.

The announcement came a day after the United States imposed sanctions against Iran’s civilian space program, charging it as being a cover for the Middle Eastern country to advance its weapons of mass destruction program.

The White House has been pressuring Iran to force it back into negotiations following an escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran after Trump pulled out of a landmark, multinational nuclear deal last May. In retaliation, Iran reneged on some of its commitments under the Obama-era deal.

Trump told reporters Wednesday that Iran wants to talk and to make a deal, but the United States isn’t willing to lift sanctions as a precursor to talks.

“They’ve got a big problem,” he said. “They’re getting killed, financially. Their inflation is at a number that few people have ever seen inflation at. And it’s a very sad situation. They could solve it very quickly. We could solve it in 24 hours.”

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