The United States imposed new sanctions against companies and individuals connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program just hours after four U.S. citizens had left Iran after being freed from jail in a prisoner swap deal between the two countries.
"Iran's ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions," said Adam J Szubin, U.S. acting under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
While we always remain ready to defend Iran, we bear the message of peace, stability & security for our region & the world. — Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 17, 201
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 11 companies and individuals were blacklisted for supplying Iran with material and funds for its ballistic program.
The United Arab Emirates-based Mabrooka Trading, and its owner Hossein Pournaghshband, were placed on the U.S. blacklist for helping Iran produce carbon fiber for the missile program.
Iran unveiled a secret missile program in October when it conducted its first ballistic missile test. The U.S. argues the ballistic missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Iran says a United Nations Security Council resolution, approved in July, would only ban missiles specifically designed to carry nuclear warheads so it would not affect its military program as Tehran does not pursue nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the row over the ballistic missile program could have sabotaged the prisoner swap deal. U.S. officials said the sanctions were delayed by more than two weeks in order to not endanger the negotiations.
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According to Reuters news agency, an unnamed senior administration official told several reporters Sunday that the U.S. "did not want to complicate what was a very sensitive and delicate effort to bring Americans home" by imposing the sanctions.
The official added that the recent sanctions were planned to take effect Dec. 30 as the negotiations for the prisoner swap were underway between the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif.
But on Dec. 29, Zarif warned Kerry and the U.S. that the deal would fall apart if the sanctions were implemented.
The announcement of the new sanctions came hours after three U.S. citizens detained by Iran, including the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, had boarded a Swiss plane departing Tehran.
The new sanctions also came a day after the nuclear deal between Tehran and six world leaders went into effect Saturday, effectively lifting decades-long economic sanctions against Iran in return for Tehran’s commitment to a civilian nuclear program.
Earlier on Sunday, the U.S. State Department also announced it had agreed to release $400 million and $1.3 billion in interest for Iranian funds that had been frozen by Washington since 1979.
Also, on Saturday, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order listing economic sanctions against Iran. Iranian assets held in the international financial system, estimated to be worth between $50 billion and $150 billion, have now been released as a result of Obama’s order.