US slaps sanctions on Iran's nuclear energy chief
Iran called the sanctions ‘cruel’ but said they would not interrupt its nuclear program
Tensions continue to escalate between the US and Iran as the Trump administration on Friday added the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) and its head, Ali Akbar Salehi to the sanctions list.
In its announcement, the State Department said the sanctions are “pursuant to Executive Order 13382, which targets Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferators and their supporters” and intend “to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon”.
The State Department accused the AEOI and Mr Salehi of “having engaged, or attempted to engage, in activities or transactions that have materially contributed to, or pose a risk of materially contributing to, the proliferation of WMD by a foreign country of proliferation concern”.
Citing violations by the agency including exceeding the limits on its uranium stockpile and enrichment level, the State Department claimed Mr Salehi “personally inaugurated the installation of new, advanced centrifuges as part of Iran’s recent effort to expand its uranium enrichment capacity”.
Mr Salehi, the announcement stated, had “chaired a ceremony at which Iran started injecting uranium gas into advanced IR-6 centrifuge machines”.
The US statement said the regime poses a “serious challenge to international peace and security” despite repeated acknowledgements by senior US officials that Washington is not seeking regime change in Iran.
“The time is now for the international community to stand together against Iran’s nuclear extortion,” it added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the AEOI sanctions in a tweet, saying “Iran’s behaviour is already dangerous - imagine how much worse it will be if they obtain a nuclear weapon”.
In a defiant response on Twitter, the AEOI called the move “unwise” and “cruel”.
The agency said the sanctions "will not in any way interrupt the peaceful nuclear activities and policies”.
But even as the US ratcheted up pressure on Iran’s nuclear programme, the State Department lifted sanctions on one unit of the giant Chinese tanker company COSCO, which was previously sanctioned in September for transporting Iranian oil.
The move was seen as part of trade talks between China and the Trump administration.
Tensions continue to escalate between Washington and Tehran.
The Pentagon confirmed late on Thursday that at least 64 US military service members in Iraq had suffered brain injuries from the Iranian missile attack on January 8 that targeted Ain Al Asad air base.
The number has gradually increased in the last few weeks and at least 21 members have now been transferred to Germany for treatment, while 39 have returned to active duty, the Pentagon said.
Updated: January 31, 2020 11:20 PM