US lifts sanctions on 3 former Iranian officials and two companies

The Biden administration lifted a handful of Iran-related sanctions Thursday in what the State Department described as a “normal practice” unrelated to the ongoing discussions over the Iran nuclear deal.

The Treasury and State Departments lifted sanctions “on three former government of Iran officials, and two companies previously involved in the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of Iranian petrochemical products, as a result of a verified change in status or behavior on the part of the sanctioned parties,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at a briefing Thursday that there was “absolutely no connection” between the delisting and the negotiations in Vienna over fate of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“This is a routine, technical practice consistent with sanctions hygiene, with administrative processes that the Department of the Treasury routinely reviews and undertakes as appropriate,” Price said, noting that the removal of the sanctions resulted from a petition for delisting. He declined to go into specifics about the “verified change in behavior or status” that resulted in the removal of the sanctions.

“There’s no connection to the delistings that we announced today to the (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) or to negotiations that are ongoing in Vienna,” he said.

Those negotiations, which are aimed at returning the United States to the nuclear deal and bringing Iran back into compliance — are set to resume late this week after five previous rounds of indirect talks between the two countries that have yet to yield results. Price said that while there had been “progress” in those preceding rounds, “challenges do remain and big issues do continue to divide the sides.”

As the two countries attempt to reach mutual agreement in the Austrian capital, an Iranian Navy destroyer ship and logistical vessel reached the Atlantic Ocean, sparking warnings from the administration about a potential transfer of weapons to Venezuela.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers Thursday that he is generally concerned about weapons proliferation “in our neighborhood,” but declined to go into specifics about the cargo of the vessels.

Price said that “if Iran would seek to effect the transfer of weapons or other illicit materials, we would be prepared to hold Iran accountable, and before that were to take place, we are prepared to do what we can to attempt to eliminate such activity.”

The administration on Thursday also slapped sanctions on an Iran-based Houthi financier and other members of his financial network for their role in providing “tens of millions of dollars’ worth of funds to the Houthis in cooperation with senior officials in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Qods Force (IRGC-QF),” according to Blinken.

Yemen has been embroiled in a years-long civil war that has pitted a coalition backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, a Shia political and military organization from the north of Yemen. The conflict has cost thousands of civilian lives and plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis.

Blinken noted that “those in (Sa’id) al-Jamal’s network of front companies and intermediaries sell commodities, such as Iranian petroleum, throughout the Middle East and beyond and channel a significant portion of the revenue to the Houthis.”

“This network’s financial support enables the Houthis’ deplorable attacks threatening civilian and critical infrastructure in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. These attacks undermine efforts to bring the conflict to an end and, most tragically, starve tens of millions of innocent civilians,” Andrea Gacki, the director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a separate statement.

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