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US imposes additional sanctions on Iranian banks; mining, steel also targeted

The White House announced additional sanctions against Iranian banks and other companies, including the country's top steel manufacturer and a large zinc mining operation, as part of the Trump administration's wider campaign against Tehran.

The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued the sanctions against businesses and firms providing financial support to the Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary group subordinate to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which recruits children as young as 12 years old, according to the department.

The Treasury designated Mehr Eqtesad Bank and Bank Mellat under the new sanctions. Mehr Eqtesad Bank and its investment firm Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Company are owned by Bonyad Taavon Basij, a conglomerate that "manages Basij members' economic activities by funding small companies," according to a Treasury statement.

Bank Mellat has provided Mehr Eqtesad Bank "hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the form of dividends, interest-free loans, and lines of credit, supporting an institution that facilitates and funds the Basij's domestic and foreign aggression," the release added.

Other sanctioned entities include the Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company, the largest tractor manufacturer in the Middle East and North Africa, and Esfahan's Mobarakeh Steel Company, the largest steelmaker in the same region, according to the department. In addition, the new sanctions target Technotar Engineering and Taktar Investment Company, which "serve as intermediaries to obscure Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Company's control over [Iran's Zinc Mines Development Company]." IZMDC is a pre-eminent zinc and lead mining and processing company, the agency said.

Senior administration officials said the moves are aimed at a multibillion-dollar network with significant contacts in the Middle East and Europe.

"What this action is doing," an official said, "is really exposing the underbelly of the Iranian economy."

"As of today, our expectation is that any relationship, banking relationships with those banks, will be terminated, assets frozen, any ongoing transactions rejected," the official added.

Officials said the U.S. has several allies in the Middle East working to counter Iran's efforts, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government is facing criticism from government and business leaders over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite having "a longstanding relationship" with Saudi Arabia, officials said the U.S. is not "ignoring or downplaying" the events surrounding Khashoggi's disappearance, nor is it overstating Saudi Arabia's role in countering Iran in the region.

"I think all of our regional partners are extremely important to that effort," an official said of countering Iran. "Obviously, the Saudis are one important component, but we have a range of them across the Middle East, in the gulf, from Egypt to Bahrain. I definitely agree it's an important relationship, but that doesn't mean we're ignoring all other issues."