New sanctions target industrial sector

The latest United Nations sanctions resolution targets Iran's military and nuclear industries.

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The latest United Nations sanctions resolution targets Iran's military and nuclear industries, the immense financial muscle of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the country's shipping industry. The resolution is aimed at curbing Iran's ambitious nuclear and missile programmes. Three annexes to the document list some 40 companies to be added to an existing UN blacklist of firms, whose assets around the world are to be frozen on suspicion of assisting these programmes.

Only one individual is singled out: Javad Rahiqi, 56, the head of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran's Isfahan Nuclear Technology Centre. He will be subject to a travel ban and a freeze of his assets - if he has any - abroad. The resolution, however, bolsters the travel ban against 40 already blacklisted Iranian officials. Isfahan, a historic city with some of the finest architecture in the Middle East, is the location of Iran's uranium conversion facility, a key component of Iran's uranium enrichment programme.

All four rounds of UN sanctions penalise Iran for refusing to suspend that programme, which the West believes is aimed at weapons development, an accusation Tehran vehemently denies. One of the resolution's annexes lists 15 companies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The IRGC dominates the Iranian economy and spearheaded the repression against pro-democracy protestors in the wake of last June's disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

By some Western estimates, the IRGC's market share of the Iranian economy ranges from a third to nearly two-thirds of the country's GDP. The elite force publicly trumpets its growing involvement in huge oil infrastructure projects. The IRGC also manages much of Iran's weapons-manufacturing business, including its missile programme, and protects Iran's nuclear facilities, while playing a major role in developing their infrastructure.

The IRGC's most influential company is Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters (KAA), Iran's biggest construction contractor. It is said to control hundreds of companies in Iran and around the world. KAA is "involved in large-scale civil and military construction projects" while it subsidiaries, the UN resolution annex says, "were heavily involved in the construction of the uranium enrichment site at Qom/Fordow".

Iran only acknowledged that facility's hitherto secret existence last September when Tehran got wind that the United States and Britain were about to blow the whistle and showcase it as an example of Iran's alleged nuclear perfidy. KAA, with the support of Mr Ahmadinejad, has won numerous no-bid contracts in recent years, so that its tentacles now reach virtually every aspect of the Iranian economy, Iran experts say. It has major contracts in tunnelling, underground railroad systems, and building natural gas pipelines.

In February, the US treasury department froze the assets of KAA's head, Gen Rostam Qasemi, and four subsidiary companies. Another annex to the UN sanctions resolution blacklists three companies controlled by Iran's state shipping company, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (Irisl), which is said to have close links with the IRGC. The US blacklisted the company and all of its ships in 2008 for allegedly assisting in transporting materials for Iran's nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes, smuggling weapons and helping to circumvent existing sanctions.

According to a detailed New York Times investigative report on Tuesday, Irisl has used "corporate camouflage" to stay one step ahead, by obscuring the true ownership of its vessels in a web of purportedly independent shell companies stretching across Europe and Asia. At least 80 of Irisl's known fleet of 123 vessels have been renamed in the past two years, with giveaway names such as Iran Gilan replaced by English-sounding monikers such as Bluebell and Angel, the New York Times report said. Other names seemingly were designed to tease and taunt the US: System Wise, Great Method and Alias.

The new UN resolution calls for inspections of all such ships, whether or not Irisl is the listed owner. The shipping company has denied improperly assisting Iran's military and nuclear programmes. A third annex to the UN resolution lists 22 industrial companies and research institutes as involved in military contracts or the nuclear industry. Among them is Malek Ashtar University in Tehran. It is a subordinate of the Defence Technology and Science Research Centre and is owned or controlled by Iran's Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics, which oversees "Iran's R&D [research and development], production, maintenance, exports, and procurement", the annex said.

The university has been cited by the UN in the past as a nuclear research site and is believed to be closely connected to the IRGC. The institution has been in the news recently because of the murky case of a missing nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, who worked there. He disappeared while on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia a year ago. Tehran blamed the CIA for his disappearance and this week a video broadcast by Iranian TV purported to show Mr Amiri saying he was kidnapped and is living in Arizona. Hours later, another video posted on YouTube appeared to show him saying he was happy in the US, which has denied abducting him.

US media reported in March that Mr Amiri, who is in his early 30s, had defected to the US and was assisting the CIA in efforts to undermine Iran's nuclear programme. Only one bank is on the new UN blacklist: First East Export Bank. It is said to be controlled by Iran's Bank Mellat. Over the last seven years, the latter has "facilitated hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions for Iranian nuclear missile, and defence entities", an annex to the UN resolution said. But the document urges all countries to block financial transactions and ban the licensing of Iranian banks if they suspect a link to nuclear activities.