WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Treasury Department has frozen the U.S. assets linked to several Iranian officials and two entities that it says has helped finance terrorist efforts by Hizballah.
The Iranian Committee for the Reconstruction of Lebanon (ICRL) and the Lebanese Branch of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (IKRC) are the two targeted entities. Among the blacklisted individuals are four senior officers from the Quds force that the United States accuses of supporting terrorism.
The U.S. Treasury Department also released a list of 21 companies in six countries that are believed to be owned or controlled by the Iranian government.
The companies include two banks in Belarus, two Germany-based investment firms, and mining and engineering companies in Japan, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, and Iran.
U.S. citizens and companies are prohibited from doing business with the targeted companies.
In a statement, the Treasury Department's Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said, "As its isolation from the international financial and commercial systems increases, the government of Iran will continue efforts to evade sanctions, including using government-owned entities around the world that are not easily identifiable as Iranian to facilitate transactions in support of their illicit activities."
He said the new identifications "will mitigate the risk that such entities pose to legitimate transactions," and later at a press briefing described Iran as "by far the most prolific funder of terrorism in the world."
The United States and several other countries accuse Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons. Iran rejects the charge and says all its nuclear activities are peaceful.
The latest U.S. move is aimed at raising the pressure on Iran over its sensitive nuclear work. The UN and EU countries have also imposed sanctions against Iran.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters earlier in the day that the recent round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations and subsequent bilateral moves by the United States, European Union, and other countries are having an effect in Tehran.
"We believe it is having an effect on the ground, in Iran. It is getting increasingly difficult to do business in Iran. The cost of doing business for Iran is going up. And we are encouraged by what we're seeing," Crowley said.
He added, "Obviously there's more that needs to be done. That's why [State Department Special Adviser for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Robert] Einhorn has been in South Korea, is in Tokyo today and will be making additional stops in the current weeks."
Iran has dismissed the sanctions and said that they won't make it change course.
Meanwhile, the White House dismissed a call from Iran's President Madmud Ahmadinejad for a televised debate with U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss "world problems."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "We have always said we would be willing to sit down and discuss Iran's illicit nuclear program if Iran is serious about doing that. To date, that seriousness has not been there."
written by Golnaz Esfandiari with agency reports