U.S. hits firms over Iran sanctions

The United States targeted companies and people for evading sanctions against Iran

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The United States on Thursday black-listed more than two dozen companies and people under sanctions aimed at Iran's nuclear program.

The action freezes the U.S. assets of firms in Panama, Singapore, Ukraine and elsewhere for maintaining covert business with Iran's national tanker company.

Treasury and State Department officials said the move shows the recent agreement reached in Geneva over Iran "does not, and will not, interfere with our continued efforts to expose and disrupt those supporting Iran's nuclear program or seeking to evade our sanctions."

The move comes as the Obama administration intends to show it will enforce existing law even as it presses Congress to hold off on additional measures while world powers pursue a comprehensive nuclear deal with Tehran.

It is considered the first since the United States and other nations struck a nuclear deal with Iran last month in Geneva.

As part of the deal, the U.S. agreed to no new nuclear-related financial penalties against Tehran for six months, and Iran's foreign minister has warned that any such action could kill the diplomatic effort.

Still, many Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for even tougher measures to raise the pressure further on the Islamic republic, despite the administration's pleas for patience.

"We will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive resolution of our concerns with Iran's nuclear program," said David Cohen, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Thursday's action targeted entities that are involved in the proliferation of materials for weapons of mass destruction and have tried to evade the current sanctions.

Officials said Thursday's targets include companies and individuals engaged in transactions on behalf of other companies that the United States has also previously designated under the sanctions.

They include Mid Oil Asia, Singa Tankers, Siqiriya Maritime, Ferland Company Limited and Vitaly Sokolenko.

The U.S. also named five Iranian entities it said are directly engaged in actions contributing to Iran's ability to enrich uranium.

Several other entities related to Iran's ballistic missile program were also targeted.

(With Reuters and the Associated Press)

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