The Obama administration penalised nearly three dozen companies and individuals in eight countries, accusing them of evading sanctions on doing business with Iran as the UN nuclear agency and Tehran met yesterday for more talks.
It was the administration's most extensive enforcement action to target Iran since a temporary international agreement on that country's disputed nuclear program was completed in November and put into effect last month.
Announced by the Treasury Department office on Thursday that oversees sanctions enforcement, the punishments were at least partly devised to send a message that the US is not relaxing economic pressures on Iran, apparently to blunt an atmosphere of optimism that has resulted from the temporary nuclear agreement. This week, Secretary of State John Kerry criticised France after it sent a large trade delegation to Iran.
Under US sanctions laws and regulations, violators face severe penalties, including restrictions on doing business in the United States and the seizure of any property under US jurisdiction.
Eighteen businesses and 14 individuals were identified as violators in the Treasury announcement, in a list of countries that included Turkey, Spain, Germany, Georgia, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Liechtenstein.
In Tehran, the UN nuclear agency and Tehran met for talks on allegations of past Iranian weapons work and to seek additional safeguards to allay international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.
The meeting came as the Islamic republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, demanded tolerance from critics of President Hassan Rohani ahead of fresh talks with world powers.
Negotiations between Iran and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are building on a framework deal agreed in November that required Tehran to take six practical steps by next Tuesday.
Chief inspector Tero Varjoranta and four experts are assessing the implementation of those measures, Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said.
There were no immediate comments from the IAEA, but Iranian media said the talks could extend into Sunday if there is major progress.