WASHINGTON – The U.S. State and Treasury departments on September 4 exerted more pressure on Iran with additional sanctions and monetary rewards for “actionable” information on what they call Tehran’s “oil-for-terror” network.
More than 25 entities and 11 vessels were sanctioned that the Treasury Department says is part of a network “directed by and [which] financially supports” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) foreign arm, the Qods Force, and the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia movement Hezbollah.
“This network has moved hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of illicit oil. That money is then used to fund terrorism,” Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, said in a briefing on September 4.
In spring alone, the network “employed more than a dozen vessels to transport nearly 10 million barrels of crude oil, predominantly to the Syrian regime. These shipments, taken collectively, sold for more than half a billion dollars," according to the Treasury Department.
Iran’s former Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi and his son Morteza, are among those hit by the sanctions.
Also targeted are subsidiaries of an Indian firm with an interest in the Adrian Darya 1, the Iranian tanker the authorities in Gibraltar detained in July on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
The restrictive measures froze any assets in the United States of the designated individuals and entities and expose individuals or companies to sanctions if they do business with them.
A reward of up to $15 million is being offered for “actionable” information “leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of the IRGC and Qods Force.
This includes oil sales and tankers that transport Iranian-sourced oil.
Noting that both IRGC and Qods in April were designated terrorist groups, Hook said this is the first time the United States has offered a reward for information “that disrupts a government entity’s financial operations.”
The move comes a day after Washington announced sanctions on Iran's civilian space agency and two of its research institutes, saying they are being used to advance Tehran's missile program.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the punitive measures "totally ineffective."
Hook said the main goal of the government’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran is to “deny the regime revenue to fund its foreign operations” and bring Tehran back to the negotiating table to reach a “new and comprehensive” agreement on its nuclear and missiles programs.
But as the United States piled up pressure on Iran, President Donald Trump left the door open for a possible meeting with Rouhani during the UN General Assembly. He was speaking to reporters at a White House briefing on September 4.
"Sure. Anything’s possible. They would like to be able to solve their problems. They’ve got a big problem. They’re getting killed financially," Trump told reporters at a White House briefing when asked about a possible meeting.
Trump also politely seemed to downplay the efforts of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been trying to find some common ground by offering Iran a respite from U.S. sanctions.
Trump expressed appreciation for Macron’s efforts but said the U.S. would handle negotiations on its own way.
"We don’t need anybody to deal," he said. "We can deal directly if we want. But other countries are offering help. They’d like to see it straightened out."
Once again, the U.S. president raised the issue of how much sanctions have hurt Iran but at the same time dangled the prospect of Iran realizing its economic fortunes are tied to a deal with the United States.
"Iran has tremendous potential," he said. "And I can’t imagine they’re going to want to go through what they’re going to have to go through if they want to do it the hard way."
The United States last year withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, and has since reimposed and tightened sanctions.
Tehran has indicated it won’t join multilateral talks until the sanctions are lifted.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said as of September 4, Tehran will begin developing centrifuges to speed up uranium enrichment, as the country's "third step" to scale back its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.
"From Friday, we will witness research and development on different kinds of centrifuges and new centrifuges and also whatever is needed for enriching uranium in an accelerated way," Rouhani said on September 4.
"All limitations on our research and development will be lifted," he said.