By Jamie Crawford
The United States imposed new sanctions on Iran on Friday in an effort to further squeeze its crippled economy and pressure Tehran into curbing its nuclear ambitions.
The latest Treasury Department action targets the petrochemical industry, Iran's second-highest source of revenue after oil production, which is also under sanctions.
Treasury targeted eight companies under the authority of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama last year to stem the flow of money that can be diverted to Iran's nuclear program.
Western powers believe Iran is aiming to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran says its intentions are peaceful.
Obama's order put companies and other governments on notice the United States would eventually target Iran's petrochemical sector. Friday's action was the first enforcement of that aspect of the directive.
Treasury also sanctioned companies and individuals from Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates that lease and sell aircraft to two Iranian airlines the United States says is involved in illicit activities to fund and support Iran's elite Quds Force.
The Quds Force has been implicated by the United States and other governments for its role in plotting or carrying out terrorist operations both in American and around the world.
"Today's actions take aim at revenues from Iran's petrochemical sector, as well as deceptive schemes Iran has employed in an effort to evade sanctions on its oil sales and its airlines," David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
Additional sanctions against companies in Cyprus and Ukraine were also announced for their role in helping Iran evade sanctions on its sale of petroleum as part of a clandestine effort to replenish its coffers.
"We will continue to work with our partners around the world to ensure that the sanctions pressure on Iran builds so long as Iran continues to defy its obligation to comply with its international obligations," Cohen said.
Talks between the United States, and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and Iran that are aimed at getting Tehran to curtail its nuclear ambitions are currently stalemated.
The Treasury also issued an order on Thursday that allows for the export of certain personal communications equipment from the United States to help Iranian citizens circumvent censorship and other efforts by the regime to stifle free speech.
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, a senior Obama administration official highlighted what the United States sees as an "alarming trend" of Iran, and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, to expand destabilizing efforts in Syria and elsewhere.