WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration targeted a host of businesses across Europe and the Middle East on Thursday for evading sanctions against Iran, a signal that Washington aims to keep pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.
The announcement marks the second time the United States has designated sanctions evaders since reaching an interim deal with Tehran in November.
Washington says it will continue to enforce existing sanctions until there is a more comprehensive deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
"We strongly believe that sustaining sanctions pressure will be critical," a senior U.S. Treasury official told journalists by telephone.
Under that agreement between Iran and six major powers, including the United States, Tehran agreed to curb sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for some limited sanctions relief, including the transfer back to Iran of $4.2 billion in oil funds held abroad.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is peaceful and denies Western and Israeli accusations that it is seeking the means and expertise to assemble a nuclear warhead. It also says it is Israel's reputed atomic arsenal that threatens peace.
The actions taken on Thursday prohibit companies and individuals from carrying out financial transactions under U.S. jurisdiction.
The U.S. Treasury said the targeted businesses and individuals operated in Turkey, Spain, Germany, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iran, Liechtenstein and the United Arab Emirates.
Some were helping Iran evade sanctions on oil exports as well as its efforts to acquire prohibited nuclear and military technologies, according to the Treasury. They included a Spanish firm that the United States said was helping Iran's nuclear industry.
The United States targeted a Turkish citizen for allegedly helping Iran try to acquire and reverse engineer a "weapons-capable" speedboat. Washington also accused German firm Deutsche Forfait of helping "facilitate oil deals" with Iran.
Other violators named were associated with Iran-sponsored activities in Syria and Afghanistan, the Treasury said in a statement.
Some U.S. lawmakers want new sanctions laws imposed on the Islamic state. But the Obama administration has campaigned to hold off on new measures to give diplomatic efforts a chance to settle the nuclear dispute.
The Treasury last imposed Iran sanctions in December, shortly after the interim deal was struck, blacklisting several companies and individuals for supporting Iran's nuclear program.