US hits Iran with sanctions ahead of key nuke talks meeting

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Friday hit Iran with a fresh set of sanctions as President Joe Biden prepares for a key weekend meeting with European leaders to discuss the possible resumption of nuclear talks with the Islamic Republic.

The Treasury Department announced the new penalties against two senior members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and two affiliated companies for supplying lethal drones and related material to insurgent groups in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen and to Ethiopia, which has been fighting rival Tigray forces for almost a year.

Although the sanctions are unrelated to Iran’s atomic program, the Biden administration has said it wants to build on a potential agreement to revive the languishing 2015 nuclear deal to include Iranian support for such groups and curtail its ballistic missile development.

Iran has yet to commit to a date to return to the nuclear talks in Vienna but has signaled it will do so next week with a target of late November for resuming the negotiations. The U.S. and others have expressed skepticism about Iranian intentions, and Biden is set to meet the leaders of Britain, France and Germany on Saturday in Rome to plot strategy on Iran.

The Vienna negotiations halted in June ahead of Iran’s election that brought hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi to power. The talks, which do not directly involve the U.S. because President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, have languished since despite the stated intentions of both Washington and Tehran to return to compliance with the agreement.

Friday’s sanctions block any assets that those targeted may have in U.S. jurisdictions, bar Americans from transactions with them and, perhaps more importantly, also subject foreign people and firms that do business with them to potential penalties.

The two targeted Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders, Brig. Gen. Saeed Aghajani and Brig. Gen. Abdollah Mehrabi, oversee the Guard’s drone activities, including support for unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, attacks by proxies on commercial vessels, Saudi oil facilities and U.S. and allied interests throughout the Middle East, according to Treasury.

“Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region threatens international peace and stability. Iran and its proxy militants have used UAVs to attack U.S. forces, our partners, and international shipping,” Treasury said in a statement. “Treasury will continue to hold Iran accountable for its irresponsible and violent acts.”

The two firms, the Kimia Part Sivan Co. and the Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar Co., along with the latter’s managing director, were sanctioned for supplying engines and technical assistance to the drone programs, Treasury said.

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