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US sanctions target top Iran officials, metals industry

By AFP

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A picture taken April 6th, 2015, shows molten metal at the Iran Alloy Steel Company (IASCO) plant in the central Iranian city of Yazd. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

The US on Friday (January 10th) announced fresh sanctions against eight top Iranian officials it accused of working to destabilise the region, as well as against more than a dozen leading producers of metals.

"As a result of these actions, we will cut off billions of dollars of support to the Iranian regime," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Among the senior Iranian officials targeted in the new measures were Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, the Iranian armed forces deputy chief of staff.

Also targeted was Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Soleimani, head of the Basij Resistance Force, a component of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The US Treasury also slapped sanctions on 17 Iranian metals producers and mining companies, which it said generated billions of dollars in revenue.

The sanctions also included a network of three entities that are based in China and the Seychelles, as well as a vessel "involved in the purchase, sale, and transfer of Iranian metals products", the Treasury said in a statement.

Mnuchin said the officials and companies were being targeted in response to Iranian strikes targeting Iraqi military bases where US forces are stationed.

He said the measures hitting Iran's economy "will continue until the regime stops the funding of global terrorism and commits to never having nuclear weapons".

Sanctions on metals industry

The new sanctions target the 13 largest steel and iron manufacturers in Iran, who collectively generate billions in sales annually, the Treasury said.

Mobarakeh Steel Company is the biggest steel producer in the Middle East, producing more than 50% of Iran's steel in all major markets.

Top companies operating in the Iranian aluminum and copper sectors targeted by the new sanctions include the Iran Aluminum Company, which accounts for approximately 75% of Iran's total aluminum production volume.

Also designated was Al-Mahdi Aluminum Corporation, a top producer of aluminum in Iran, and National Iranian Copper Industries, the leading copper producer in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Khalagh Tadbir Pars Co., a minerals trading firm that deals in iron ore, copper concentrate, alumina and aluminum, also has been sanctioned.

Sanctions on senior officials

Shamkhani, an IRGC admiral, was appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as one of his representatives to the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

As the head of the SNSC, Shamkhani plays a key role in implementation of the Supreme Leader's domestic and foreign policies, the Treasury said.

Last year, Khamenei appointed Soleimani as commander of the Basij militia.

Among other malign activities, the Basij recruits, trains and deploys child soldiers to fight in IRGC-fueled conflicts across the region.

Former IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai is a longtime member of Iran's Expediency Council, which provides policy guidance to the Supreme Leader.

Rezai is suspected of involvement in a 1994 terrorist attack in Argentina, resulting in the deaths of 85 people, is wanted by Argentina and has an active international arrest warrant through Interpol.

Mohammad Reza Naqdi was appointed by Khamenei as deputy co-ordinator of the IRGC in May.

Naqdi is the former commander of the Basij, as well as a former head of the Basij intelligence unit who was responsible for the interrogation of those arrested during the post-election crackdown in 2009.

In this role, he extracted forced confessions from high-ranking reformist leaders broadcast on Iranian state-run television, the Treasury said.

Ashtiani and Ali Abdollahi are senior Iranian military appointees of Khamenei.

Ashtiani was appointed as deputy chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces in July, while IRGC Brig. Gen. Abdollahi was appointed the co-ordination deputy for the Armed Forces General Staff in July 2016.

Abdollahi is a former deputy commander of Iran's Law Enforcement Forces.

Ali Asghar Hejazi is a senior official within the Supreme Leader's Office in charge of security. Hejazi also maintains close links to the IRGC's Quds Force.

Mohsen Qomi, a deputy advisor for international affairs in the Supreme Leader's Office and an advisor to Khamenei on international communications, has represented the Supreme Leader on official international visits.

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