The Obama administration penalized nearly three dozen companies and individuals in eight countries Thursday, accusing them of evading sanctions on doing business with Iran.
It was the administration’s most extensive enforcement action to target Iran since a temporary international agreement on that country’s disputed nuclear program was completed in November and put into effect last month.
Announced by the Treasury Department office that oversees sanctions enforcement, the punishments were at least partly devised to send a message that the U.S. is not relaxing economic pressures on Iran, apparently to blunt an atmosphere of optimism that has resulted from the temporary nuclear agreement.
This week, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized France after it sent a large trade delegation to Iran.
“Today’s action should leave no doubt that those who seek to evade our sanctions, support Iran’s nuclear program or assist in Iran’s promotion of international terrorism will continue to be called to account,” a senior Treasury Department official said in a conference call with reporters.
A Treasury announcement said the enforcement action had singled out “a diverse range of entities and individuals located around the world” for evading U.S. sanctions aimed at Iran.
There was no immediate comment from the Iranian government.
An intense political debate is underway over whether the temporary deal will help or hinder negotiations with Iran on a permanent agreement to resolve the dispute over the nuclear program, which Western nations suspect is a cover for creating the ability to make atomic bombs, despite Iran’s repeated denials.
Administration critics in the U.S. and Israel have denounced the temporary agreement’s provisions for some limited sanctions relief, arguing that the relaxation disproportionately favored Iran and helped it in ways that make the country’s leaders less likely to negotiate a permanent accord.
Known as the Joint Plan of Action, the temporary agreement was devised to allow more time to negotiate a permanent accord.
It allows Iran access to more than $6 billion of Iranian money impounded in overseas banks and eases restrictions on the country’s petrochemical, automotive and precious metals industries.
In return, Iran froze much of its uranium enrichment activities and will provide more access to United Nations nuclear inspectors.
Iran and the so-called P5+1 group, which includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, are now planning negotiations on a permanent solution to the dispute regarding Iran’s nuclear program, with the first session scheduled this month.