The Treasury Department on Thursday tightened the economic screws on Iran by sanctioning a range of companies and individuals for their efforts to bolster Iran’s nuclear and WMD programs.
The crackdown comes as the Obama administration pushes Congress to hold off on passing a new round of economic sanctions on Iran that it argues could destroy a recently reached nuclear accord meant to temporarily freeze Tehran’s uranium enrichment program.
The additional sanctions will "target entities and individuals involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-related materiel and attempts to evade international sanctions against Iran," the Treasury Department announced in a statement.
"The conduct of these entities and individuals demonstrates Iran’s extensive efforts to conceal its evasive activities by using front companies in foreign countries to deceive foreign suppliers to support its illicit proliferation and evasion activities."
Senior Treasury Department officials say that they will not hold off on sanctioning Iran.
"The Joint Plan of Action reached in Geneva does not, and will not, interfere with our continued efforts to expose and disrupt those supporting Iran’s nuclear program or seeking to evade our sanctions," David S. Cohen, the department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
"Today’s actions should be a stark reminder to businesses, banks, and brokers everywhere that we will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive resolution of our concerns with Iran’s nuclear program," Cohen said.
"These sanctions have isolated Iran from the international financial system, imposed enormous pressure on the Iranian economy, and motivated the Iranian leadership to make the first meaningful concessions on its nuclear program in over a decade," he added.
The latest round of designations target oil tanker companies that have been illegally carrying Iranian crude oil in a bid to help the regime skirt current sanctions.
Several Iranian front companies and officials working for "designated nuclear and weapons proliferation companies" also were targeted in the latest round of sanctions.
The new designations were issued at a critical juncture in the Iranian-U.S. relationship.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been fighting for months to pass a new Iran sanctions measure aimed at crippling Tehran’s economy and forcing it to make nuclear concessions.
The White House has fought against the measure and enlisted its Democratic allies to stall through at least the end of 2013.
Iran has said on multiple occasions that any new sanctions would kill the interim nuclear deal that was reached several weeks ago in Geneva.
The move by Treasury is being viewed by some as a way for the Obama administration to appease lawmakers anxious for more sanctions.
"This appears to be an olive branch by the executive to Congress, demonstrating their seriousness in enforcing existing sanctions while asking members to hold off on a new tranche of sanctions against Iran while the Geneva deal plays out," said Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department.
"These kinds of decisions are approved at the highest levels of the executive, through an inter-agency process," Schanzer said. "This is, in other words, green lit by the president."
While the latest designations by the Treasury Department will pressure Iran, they are not as powerful as a new round of sanctions, said Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
"The problem here is that we are merely plugging leaks in our existing sanctions regime," he said. "We are not, however, able to deal with systemic shortcomings that could be addressed by a new round of sanctions from the legislative branch."
At least five of those entities targeted by the Treasury Department’s latest sanctions have been found to be aiding Iran’s rogue weapons programs.
Each has been "engaged in providing the Iranian government goods, technology, and services that materially contribute to or pose a risk of materially contributing to Iran's ability to enrich uranium, construct a heavy water-moderated research reactor, and develop its ballistic missile capabilities, all of which are prohibited by United Nations Security Council Resolutions," Treasury said in its statement.