WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on an international network of companies and their agents it said were involved in the procurement of materials for Iran's nuclear programme.
They are the first punitive steps by Washington since Tehran announced earlier this month it would increase its levels of enriched uranium that can be used for bomb fuel.
Tehran announced on July 1 that it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, marking its first major step beyond the terms of the pact since the United States withdrew more than a year ago.
"Treasury is taking action to shut down an Iranian nuclear procurement network that leverages Chinese- and Belgium-based front companies to acquire critical nuclear materials and benefit the regime's malign ambitions," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
"Iran cannot claim benign intent on the world stage while it purchases and stockpiled products for centrifuges," he added.
The U.S. Treasury said the companies acted as a procurement network for Iran's Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, which plays a pivotal in Iran's uranium enrichment nuclear programme through the production of centrifuges used in facilities belonging to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
The blacklist includes Mohammad Fakhrzadeh, a commercial director for TESA. The U.S. Treasury accused him of coordinating the purchase of "various Chinese aluminium goods that are associated with Iranian centrifuge components."
Bakhtar Raad Sepahan, an Iranian firm with a Belgium unit, TAWU BVBA, is accused of facilitating deals for the purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of Chinese-origin aluminium products and their shipment from China to Iran on behalf of TESA.
Also blacklisted is TAWU BVBA's managing director, Sohayl Talebi, who the U.S. Treasury said had an extensive background in metallurgical engineering.
It said China-based Henan Jiayuan Aluminum Industry was contracted to sell aluminium goods worth more than $500,000, including NSG-controlled items, to TAWU BVBA for use by TESA.
The U.S. Treasury also sanctioned Iran-heaquartered Sabz Co, accusing it of sales to TESA of alloy parts worth tens of thousands of dollars. It clinched deals with Chinese companies to purchase metal materials for end-use by TESA, the Treasury added.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Mohammad Zargham and David Alexander; editing by Grant McCool and Richard Chang)
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