US announces new Iran sanctions, targeting Omani ‘broker’

Sanctions come as talks stall between the Biden administration and Iran on restoring the nuclear deal.

Officials at talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria on June 20, 2021 [EU Delegation in Vienna/Handout via Reuters]

The United States imposed sanctions on an Omani businessman and companies linked to him over allegations of involvement in an oil-smuggling network that supports Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-QF).

The measures, announced on Friday, come as talks to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have stalled with a new administration led by conservative President Ibrahim Raisi coming into office in Tehran earlier this month.

The sanctions targeted Mahmood Rashid Amur Al Habsi, described by the US Department of the Treasury as a “foreign broker” and accused of partnering with senior Quds Force officials to “facilitate shipments of Iranian oil to foreign customers, including buyers in East Asia”.

“The IRGC-QF is using revenues from its Iranian petroleum sales to fund its malign activities at the expense of the Iranian people,” Andrea M Gacki, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury, said in a statement.

“These sales rely on key foreign intermediaries to obscure the IRGC-QF’s involvement, and Treasury will continue to disrupt and expose anyone supporting these efforts.”

The US Department of State echoed Gacki’s statement, welcoming the sanctions on Friday.

“As part of his oversight of shipping operations, Al Habsi has tampered with the automated identification systems that are onboard vessels, forged shipping documents, and paid bribes, circumventing restrictions related to Iran,” the Treasury Department said.

Sanctions will apply to four companies in Al Habsi’s business network – two firms based in Oman, one in Liberia and one in Romania.

The measures were based on Executive Order 13224, a 2001 decree meant to target the financing of foreign “terrorist” organisations. Former US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC – an Iranian state entity – as such an organisation in an unprecedented move in 2019.

The sanctions will freeze the assets of Al Habsi and his blacklisted companies in the US, cut him off from the US financial system and bar Americans from doing business with him.

New US sanctions targeting Iran have been rare since President Joe Biden took office in January.

The US administration says it is seeking a return to the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal saw world powers lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country scaling back its nuclear programme.

Trump nixed the accord in 2018 and started a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Tehran. In response, Iran started loosening its commitments to the agreement.

Several rounds of talks in Vienna have failed to restore the JCPOA earlier this year, with disagreements remaining over the sequencing of mutual compliance with the deal and what US sanctions will be lifted.

Late last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington is prepared to resume negotiations with the new Iranian administration but warned that talks “cannot go on indefinitely”.

Source: Al Jazeera