The Obama administration on Wednesday announced new sanctions targeting four companies affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and one member who runs them.
The Treasury Department will freeze the assets of Gen. Rostam Qasemi and four subsidiaries of Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters. According to a State Department news release, the firm is the engineering arm of the Guard that “serves to help the IRGC generate income and fund its operations.”
“As the IRGC consolidates control over broad swaths of the Iranian economy, displacing ordinary Iranian businessmen in favor of a select group of insiders, it is hiding behind companies like Khatam al-Anbiya and its affiliates to maintain vital ties to the outside world,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey. “Today’s action exposing Khatam al-Anbiya subsidiaries will help firms worldwide avoid business that ultimately benefits the IRGC and its dangerous activities.”
The report lists WMD proliferation and support for terrorism among the illicit activities supported by IRGC companies’ profits.
“The sanctions can have a decent impact because it’s going to make it harder for [the IRGC] to do business worldwide,” said Jamal Abdi, policy director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). “These are sanctions the world is willing to take part in, which can have an effect if everyone signs on.”
Iran denies it wants to manufacture nuclear weapons and says that it is enriching uranium to generate energy and make medical isotopes used in treatment and research.
In an impromptu Q&A session with White House reporters on Tuesday, President Obama said that his administration has “bent over backwards” to tell Iran it was willing to converse about how Iran could follow international norms and “reenter as full members of the international community.”
Notably, the administration offered to convert the low-enriched uranium that Iran has into the forms needed for medical research and treatment. However, Iran has refused the offer, which all five members of the United Nations Security Council, including Russia and China, and the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency have said is a good deal, according to President Obama.
“That indicates to us that, despite their posturing that their nuclear power is only for civilian use, that they in fact continue to pursue a course that would lead to weaponization,” he said. “And that is not acceptable to the international community, not just to the United States.”
These sanctions expand previous ones that also targeted elements of the IRGC. In addition to implementing them, the Obama administration has also been working to broaden UN Security Council sanctions as well, though the president still advocates leaving the offer to negotiate on the table while threatening added pressure.
“They have made their choice so far, although the door is still open,” President Obama said in a news conference on Wednesday. “And what we are going to be working on over the next several weeks is developing a significant regime of sanctions that will indicate to them how isolated they are from the international community as a whole.”
Effective multilateral sanctions would depend largely on the support of Russia and China. Earlier this week, Russia sent signals that it could support further sanctions against Iran after Tehran refused to send its uranium abroad for enrichment. President Obama noted, however, that China’s vote is not assured, which could prove problematic as China is one of the five veto holders on the UN Security Council.
Abdi said that China is not likely to exercise its veto power here, however. “The U.S. has done a good job of building a consensus,” he said. “Even though China doesn’t want to go ahead with this, for sanctions like the type the U.S. did today, China will ultimately not vote or will go along with it.”
However, he added, China will probably not go ahead with more significant steps that hurt the broader Iranian economy, as there is a threshold for what actions it will accept.
These sanctions come the day before the 31st anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution, one that is sure to spark major protests. Since the disputed Iranian presidential election last June, supporters of the opposition leaders have taken to the streets.
According to The New York Times, however, in recent weeks Iranian security officials have arrested many in an effort to head off protests on Thursday. The Revolutionary Court summoned the wife and children of a journalist held in custody “to appear as political prisoners,” the first time an action like this seems to have been taken.
In a joint statement, the US and the EU condemned the continuing human rights violations in Iran, saying they were particularly concerned about possible violence and repression on Thursday and calling upon the government to “live up to its international human rights obligations.”
The way the sanctions were targeted is important, Abdi said, because it conveys a message to the Iranians. “We’re targeting the government and not targeting the people. It’s showing that we’re not going to sacrifice the democracy movement and acting like that has no bearing, and that we’re not going to exact sanctions at any cost.”