US sanctions on a large Iranian shipping company and its subsidiary came into effect on Monday, as relations continued to simmer between Tehran and Washington.
The sanctions, announced by the US State Department in December last year, are on the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and its Shanghai subsidiary, E-Sail Shipping Company.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that the action against the companies was in line with an executive order against proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters.
After a 180-day grace period to allow firms who worked with the two companies to find alternative shipping methods, the sanctions came into effect.
“IRISL has repeatedly transported items related to Iran’s ballistic missile and military programmes and is also a long-standing carrier of other proliferation-sensitive items, including Nuclear Suppliers-Group controlled items,” Mr Pompeo said.
“Despite Iran’s claims that it will never develop nuclear weapons and associated delivery systems, the Iranian regime has continued to pursue and procure proliferation-sensitive items in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231."
He urged the international community to “take notice of Iran’s continued deception”.
“These designations serve as a clear warning that anyone doing business with or otherwise supporting IRISL or E-Sail are exposed to potential sanctions and risk contributing to Iran’s proliferation-sensitive programmes, including its nuclear and missile programmes," Mr Pompeo said.
“We urge government authorities worldwide to investigate all IRISL and E-Sail activity in your ports and territorial seas and take appropriate action to put a halt to it.
"The world must be vigilant and take action to prevent Iran from acquiring proliferation-sensitive items that further threaten regional stability and security."
The sanctions on the company and its subsidiary were reintroduced and were in place before the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers.
US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018. Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia remain committed to it.
Most parties to the deal have generally been supportive in maintaining it, but Iran has continued to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium to support its nuclear capabilities.
Increasing nuclear capabilities
UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency warned on Friday that Tehran continued to breach the deal.
The agency reported that Iran had also been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of 4.5 per cent, higher than the 3.67 per cent allowed under the nuclear deal.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said that the reports by the IAEA are "a clear indication that Tehran never abandoned its nuclear weapons programme", despite the nuclear deal.
Mr Jafarzadeh revealed the existence of the nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in August 2002, which led to the IAEA inspections of Iranian nuclear sites.
"This regime should have never been allowed any enrichment capabilities, nor provided any ability to do nuclear-related research and development under any pretexts," he told The National.
“All pathways of the Iranian regime to fissile material must be irreversibly blocked and the ballistic missile programme, the purpose of which is to carry a nuclear warhead, must be entirely dismantled.
“The Iranian regime must be immediately referred to the UN Security Council for significant non-performance, triggering the snapback of all UN sanctions on the Iranian regime."
Relations have been fraught between Tehran and Washington in recent months, with attacks on ships in the Gulf and on US army bases in neighbouring Iraq.
Tehran has not claimed responsibility for most of the attacks but the US has blamed them on Iran-backed militias in Iraq.
Washington has in recent months imposed sanctions on different Iranian companies and those that deal with Iranian businesses.
On May 18, Washington blacklisted Shanghai Saint Logistics, a Chinese company, for providing services to Iranian airline Mahan Air, accusing it of "carrying gold from Venezuela’s vaults back to Iran”.