The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it is sanctioning several entities in connection with Iran’s ballistic missile program, which the U.S. intelligence community estimates could be used to carry nuclear weapons over great distances, according to an announcement by the Treasury Department.
New sanctions will be leveled on two senior Iranian defense officials, including one who "facilitated the sale of explosives and provided other support to Syria and the director of the organization responsible for Iran's solid-fueled ballistic missile program," according to an announcement by the Trump administration.
New sanctions also have been leveled on a Chinese-based network believed to be supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program via "millions of dollars' worth of missile-applicable items."
Another Iran-based entity known to support Iran’s missile program also was hit with sanctions.
The Obama administration had avoided such sanctions to avoid upsetting the Iranians and potentially complicating the nuclear agreement.
The new action comes just days after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats disclosed to Congress that Iran is continuing to boost its ballistic missile program, including inter-continental ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering a nuclear payload.
One senior Trump administration official working on the Iran portfolio told the Washington Free Beacon that the new sanctions are part of a larger effort to "hold Tehran accountable" for its nefarious activities that threaten regional peace.
"The inter-agency actions today demonstrate that the Trump administration is developing a comprehensive strategy to counter the threat from Iran," the official said. "President Trump is determined to hold Tehran accountable for its dangerous and aggressive behavior that is destabilizing the Middle East, while making it clear to the Iranian people that he stands with them–not with the regime that has oppressed them for so long."
U.S. lawmakers, as well as Trump administration insiders, have become increasingly concerned over Iran’s repeated ballistic missile tests since the landmark nuclear agreement was inked.
"This administration is committed to countering Iran's destabilizing behavior, such as Iran's development of ballistic missiles and support to the Assad regime," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "It is alarming that individuals involved with Iran's missile program are assisting the brutal Assad regime, and we are taking action to curtail this behavior."
"These sanctions target Iranian officials as well as a China-based network that are providing support to Syria and supplying items to further Iran's ballistic weapons program," Mnuchin said. "The United States will remain vigilant when it comes to Iran."
The new sanctions specifically target Morteza Farasatpour, a top Iranian defense official, and Rahim Ahmadi, a senior Iranian official.
Both individuals are key enablers of Iran's ballistic missile program, according to the Trump administration.
Farasatpour coordinated the sale and delivery of explosives and other materials to Syria on behalf of Iran's Defense Industries Organization, according to the administration, which estimates the cost of this alliance to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Ahmadi was sanctioned for his role in coordinating Iran's ballistic missile flight tests, as well as research and development activities pertaining to the program.
The Trump administration also has targeted Chinese national OFAC designated Chinese national Ruan Runling and three associated Chinese companies for proliferation activities in support of a key designated Iranian defense entity," according to the Treasury Department.
Ruan operates a network that has provided support to Iranian industries working on the ballistic missile program, including guidance systems.
New sanctions also have been placed on an Iranian-based company known as Matin Sanat Nik Andishan for its proliferation activities supporting Iran's ballistic missile program.
Matin Sanat has aided an Iranian chemical company responsible for producing Iran's liquid-fueled ballistic missile industry.
The latest sanctions coincide with the release to Congress of a semi-annual report detailing Iran's human rights abuses.
The State Department informed lawmakers that it continues to closely monitor Iran's systematic human rights abuses, including the imprisonment and torture of dissidents.
"As we continue to closely scrutinize Iran's commitment to the JCPOA and develop a comprehensive Iran policy, we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses with new actions," the report states. "We urge our partners around the world to join us in calling out individuals and entities who violate international sanctions targeting Iran's human rights abuses."
While the Trump administration continues to waive certain sanctions on Iran as required under the nuclear agreement, officials said the administration would not back down from imposing new sanctions, such as those announced Wednesday.
"The United States and its partners will continue to apply pressure on Iran to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone in Iran," the State Department said in its report. "This includes the U.S. citizens wrongfully detained or missing in Iran, and we call on Iran to immediately return them to their families."
As the Trump administration continues to engage in a review of the nuclear agreement it will continue to counter "Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region, whether it be supporting the Assad regime, backing terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, or supporting violent militias that undermine governments in Iraq and Yemen," according to the State Department.
Update 1:57 p.m.: This post has been updated with more information.
Update 2:20 p.m.: This post has been updated with further information.