July 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday sanctioned a network of front companies and individuals involved in the procurement of sensitive materials for Iran's nuclear program.
Based in Iran, China and Belgium, the seven entities and five individuals perform as a procurement network for Iran's Centrifuge Technology Company, which "plays a crucial role" in Iran's enrichment of uranium by producing centrifuges used in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran's facilities, the Treasury Department said.
Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the department was applying the sanctions on companies that help Iran acquire nuclear materials to benefit "the regime's malign ambitions."
"Iran cannot claim benign intent on the world stage while it purchases and stockpiles products for centrifuges," he said in a statement. "The U.S. government is deeply concerned by the Iranian regime's uranium enrichment and other provocative behaviors and will continue to target all who provide support to Iran's nuclear program."
The sanctions come in the wake of Iran announcing early this month that it had surpassed the stockpile limit for enriching uranium set by the 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent the Middle Eastern country from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions target "proliferators of weapons of mass destruction" and in addition to freezing all of their assets in the United States, they are barred from the U.S. financial system and are listed online as WMD proliferators.
"The United States strongly condemns Iran's recent expansion of sensitive nuclear activities, including increasing its stockpile of low enriched uranium and enriching uranium at levels above 3.67 percent," he said in a statement. "There is no credible reason for Iran to expand its nuclear program at this time and in this way other than a transparent attempt to extort the international community."
Iran had greatly limited its nuclear program following the 2015 multination accord but reneged on some of the agreements in response to President Donald Trump wholly pulling out of the pact last year.
Since then, tensions have been escalating between the two countries, resulting in several conflicts, with the most recent provocation occurring Thursday when the United States shot down a Tehran drone in the Strait of Hormuz.