The US imposed on Monday sanctions on 11 companies and individuals for supplying Iran’s ballistic missile program in a move delayed by over two weeks so as not to endanger this weekend's release of American prisoners, sources familiar with the matter said.
The US Treasury Department said it had blacklisted the UAE-based Mabrooka Trading, and its owner Hossein Pournaghshband for helping Iran's produce carbon fiber for the program. Financial institutions and companies are barred from dealing with those on the US blacklist.
US official and congressional sources said President Barack Obama’s administration had held back from taking action for more than two weeks during the tense negotiations that ultimately freed five Americans under a prisoner swap.
Iran conducted a precision-guided ballistic missile test capable of delivering a nuclear warhead violating a United Nations ban last October. US President Barack Obama said the test was a violation of Iran's “international obligations.”
“As a result, the United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran's ballistic missile program. And we are going to remain vigilant about it. We're not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners,” Obama said in a televised statement on Sunday morning from the White House.
The announcement of the new sanctions came hours after three Americans detained by Iran - including the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian -- boarded a Swiss plane departing Tehran.
At the same time, the US State Department announced it had agreed to release $400 million and $1.3 billion in interest for funds that had been frozen by the United State. The settlement, reached through arbitration at the Hague Claims Tribunal, related to funds once earmarked for Iran to buy US military equipment before Iran's revolution in 1979.
Obama administration officials decided to delay the sanctions announcement until after the deal was completed, the sources said.
Iran’s missile program has never been designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said, adding that “the U.S. sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program have no legal or moral legitimacy”.
“As previously announced, the Islamic republic of Iran... responds with determination to such propaganda by accelerating its legal ballistic missile program and boosting defense capabilities,” Ansari added.