March 18 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday new sanctions against Iran after suspected Tehran-supported militias fired rockets at U.S. military forces in neighboring Iraq.
The United States responded by firing at targets believed to be in control of Kataeb Hezbollah militia members. The militias have continued their attacks since, shooting rockets near Baghdad's Green Zone and another nearby training base where NATO trainers and coalition soldiers live.
"Yesterday, the U.S. Department of State sanctioned nine entities and three individuals who have engaged in activity that could enable the Iranian regime's violent behavior," Pompeo said. "The actions of these individuals and entities provide revenue to the regime that it may use to fund terror and other destabilizing activities, such as the recent rocket attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces located at Camp Taji in Iraq."
Pompeo said the sanctions should starve Iran of oil funds and will make the country more isolated.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that U.S. sanctions were killing "innocents" there suffering from the coronavirus. Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries with more than 1,000 deaths from the pandemic, only behind China and Italy in fatalities.
"Unlawful U.S. sanctions drained Iran's economic resources, impairing ability to fight [the coronavirus]," Zarif said in a Twitter post. "They literally kill innocents. It is immoral to observe them. Doing so has never saved anyone from future US wrath. Join the growing global campaign to disregard U.S. sanctions on Iran."
In a separate statement on Wednesday, Pompeo said the United States also added five Iranian nuclear scientists to the Department of Commerce's Entity List for their involvement in the Middle Eastern country's nuclear weapons program.
The Department of Commerce said the five scientists were added for "conspiring to transship U.S.-origin items to Iran, procuring or attempting to procure on behalf of U.S. government-designated entities in Iran and transporting military-related items on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Crops ... and the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, which oversees much of Iran's nuclear program."
Pompeo identified the scientists as Aref Bali Lashak, Sayyed Mohammad Mehdi Hadavi, Kamran Daneshjou, Mehdi Teranchi and Ali Mehdipour Omrani, stating they were also involved in Iran's pre-2004 nuclear weapons program and continue to be employed by the Iranian government.
"Individuals working for Iran's proliferation-sensitive programs should be aware of the reputational and financial risks to which they expose themselves," Pompeo warned. "Iran's scientists and technical experts have two paths: They can use their skills pursuing work on projects that do not pose a proliferation risk, or they can work for Iranian organizations pursuing proliferation-sensitive activities, with the financial and reputational risk such work entails."
The U.S. Department of Commerce said it added the five scientists, a sixth individual and 18 corporations to the Entry List on Tuesday, for allegedly assisting or enabling Iran's nuclear program, Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs and Russian military modernization efforts."
"We have made clear to Iran that it must comply with its nuclear safeguard obligations and immediately provide the International Atomic Energy Agency nothing short of full cooperation, and the regime continues to refuse," said Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement. "Iran's nuclear escalation underscores the serious destabilization that the Iranian regime continues to cause in the region, and the threat posed to international peace and security."