WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States has increased pressure on Iran over its nuclear program by imposing sanctions against its national maritime carrier and 18 affiliates, effectively targeting much of its shipping sector.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Iran's national maritime carrier, and the 18 affiliates provided logistic support for Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics and that they lied about their activities.
The department said it was banning any transactions between U.S. citizens and IRISL and its affiliates and it would try to freeze any assets the companies have under U.S. jurisdiction.
The sanctions are the latest step by the United States to try to ratchet up pressure against Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or for nuclear weapons.
The United States, and some of its allies, accuse Iran of seeking to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has said that its atomic program is solely to produce electricity so that it can export more of its valuable oil and gas.
"Not only does IRISL facilitate the transfer of cargo for UN-designated proliferators, it also falsifies documents and uses deceptive schemes to shroud its involvement in illicit commerce," Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
"IRISL's actions are part of a broader pattern of deception and fabrication that Iran uses to advance its nuclear and missile programs," he added.
IRISL is a global operator with a worldwide network of subsidiaries and connects Iranian exporters and importers with South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
U.S. officials said they hoped the sanctions would make major insurance companies and others think twice before dealing with IRISL. It was unclear whether the sanctions would lead insurers to cut ties with IRISL or just raise their premiums.
No Major Effect On Oil Exports
A senior Treasury Department official said he did not believe the new sanctions would have a major impact on oil exports by Iran, which has the world's third-largest proven oil reserves and is the fourth-biggest crude oil exporter.
"Our designation today illustrates the risks of doing business with Iran that extend beyond the financial sector, beyond banks, to other sectors, notably including shipping and insurance and others," Adam Szubin, director of the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, told reporters.
"Companies that are providing maritime insurance to a company like IRISL ought to do so after only extreme diligence, given not only their ties to Iran's proliferation activities but IRISL's established deceptive practices," Szubin said.
IRISL has long been in the crosshairs of Western intelligence agencies, diplomats in New York have said.
UN Security Council Resolution 1803, adopted on March 3, called on countries to inspect the cargoes of IRISL vessels and Iran Air Cargo aircraft to and from Iran whenever there were suspicions that the firms might be transporting banned items usable in Tehran's nuclear or missile programs.
The UN Security Council has passed three resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran for its failure to suspend uranium enrichment. Russia and China are both believed resistant to passing a fourth sanctions resolution.