U.S. and Ukrainian officials have for months accused Iran of supplying Russia with Shahed-136 drones. Photo courtesy of Defense of Ukraine/Twitter
March 10 (UPI) -- The administration of President Joe Biden on Thursday targeted Iran with a slew of sanctions Thursday, blacklisting a China-based network accused of supplying Tehran with parts for drones used by Russia in Ukraine and a "shadow banking" sanctions-evasion network.
The punitive measures were applied amid worries of Russia's reliance on Iran for weaponry in its war in Ukraine and warnings lobbed by Washington at Beijing against it becoming another of the Kremlin's arms suppliers as Moscow's supplies become strained due to the prolonged conflict and the bite of sanctions.
The United States hit five China-based companies with sanctions Thursday that Treasury officials said are behind the sale and shipment of thousands of aerospace components to U.S.-designated Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company.
Some of those components can be used for unmanned aerial vehicles, the officials said, and HESA has been tied to the production of the Shahed-136 UAV model that has been used to hit tankers and exported to Russia.
Though Tehran has vehemently denied the accusations, U.S. officials have for months stated Iran has been selling its arms, specifically the Shahed-136 drone with a claimed range of more than 1,550 miles, to Russia, which has been using them to target Ukraine's critical and civilian infrastructure.
"Iran is directly implicated in the Ukrainian civil casualties that result from Russia's use of Iranian UVAs in Ukraine," Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said Thursday in a statement. "The United States will continue to target global Iranian procurement networks that supply Russia with deadly UAVs for use in its illegal war in Ukraine."
The United States separately Thursday sanctioned a massive evasion network of 39 companies in Barbaros, China, Hong Kong, Iran, Turkey, Marshall Islands, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
Treasury officials described the companies as forming a "shadow banking" network that obfuscates the trade of sanctioned Iranian companies, such as Triliance Petrochemical Co., so they can access foreign markets.
The network is one of several financial systems Tehran uses, the officials said, and is created by Iranian exchange houses establishing front companies abroad to enable trade with foreign currency transactions maintained via internal ledgers.
"Iran cultivates complex sanctions evasion networks where foreign buyers, exchange houses and dozens of front companies cooperatively help sanctioned Iranian companies to continue to trade," Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.
The United States has been clamping down on Iran's sanction-evasion efforts since then-President Donald Trump slapped the punitive measures against Tehran in 2018 when he unilaterally pulled the United States from an Obama-era multination accord aimed at preventing the Middle Eastern nation from securing a nuclear weapon.
After that move, Iran responded by reneging on its commitments under the landmark agreement, with Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Khal testifying before a congressional hearing late last month that since 2018, Tehran's ability to produce enough material for an atomic bomb has gone from a year to 12 days.
The Biden administration has sought to return Iran to the negotiating table on a new deal, and has used its financial vices to coerce them, but Tehran's supplying of weapons to Russia has made the outlook on securing a new deal unlikely for the near future, U.S. officials said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that these companies utilizing these illicit networks have generated billions of dollars for the Iranian regime.
"The United States will continue to disrupt attempts to evade U.S. sanctions, and we will use the tools at our disposal to protect both the U.S. and international financial system," Blinken said in a statement.
The announcement comes a day after the United States imposed sanctions against those in Iran accused of committing human rights abuses against women and girls and less than two weeks after it unleashed a new round of sanctions targeting its petroleum and petrochemical trade.