190315 Trump
US President Donald Trump. Image Credit: Washington Post

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration hit Iran with new sanctions yesterday while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was denouncing Iran’s growing influence on a visit to Lebanon.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions target 31 Iranian scientists, technicians and companies affiliated with Iran’s Organisation for Defence Innovation and Research, which had been at the forefront of the country’s former nuclear weapons programme. Officials said those targeted continue to work in Iran’s defence sector and form a core of experts who could reconstitute that program. Fourteen people, including the head of the organisation, and 17 subsidiary operations are covered by the sanctions.

The sanctions freeze any assets that those targeted may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from any transactions with them. But, officials say the move will also make those targeted “radioactive internationally” by making people of any nationality who do business with them subject to US penalties under so-called secondary sanctions.

US secondary sanctions apply to foreign businesses and individuals and can include fines, loss of presence in the American economy, asset freezes and travel bans. Officials said the threat of such sanctions will significantly limit the ability of those designated to travel outside of Iran, participate in research conferences or be hired for other jobs. “Individuals working for Iran’s proliferation-related programmes — including scientists, procurement agents, and technical experts — should be aware of the reputational and financial risk they expose themselves to by working for Iran’s nuclear programme.”

In Lebanon, Pompeo highlighted US concerns about Hezbollah’s “destabilising activities” and the region in talks with leaders. Pompeo said he shared concerns about “external and internal pressures on the government, including coming from some of its own members, which do not serve an independent thriving Lebanon”. Politicians who met Pompeo, including President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil — all political allies of Hezbollah — said they had told him the group was part and parcel of Lebanese politics. — Agencies