On Tuesday, the United States Department of the Treasury announced that it is targeting the eight Chinese companies and two Dubai-based businessmen for sanctions enforcement related to their dealings with Iran. The Chinese companies are those headed by Li Fangwei, alias Karl Lee, who is also the subject of a $5 million bounty being offered by the Treasury.
Li is suspected of being a major supplier of components for Iran’s ballistic missile program. Meanwhile, the two Dubai executives, Saeed Al Aqili and Anwar Kimal Nizami, have been identified as contributors to a network that helps the Iranian regime avoid Western-imposed oil sanctions.
According to the New York Times:
The announcements signaled the first significant enforcement of American sanctions directed at Iran in about three months, and seemed aimed at dispelling what Obama administration officials have called a misimpression that economic relations with Iran are moving toward normalization.
Indeed, the Treasury Department’s announcement claims that these actions: “demonstrate the U.S. Government’s commitment to vigorously enforce existing U.S. sanctions even as we implement the sanctions relief contained in the Joint Plan of Action between the P5+1 and Iran.”
This sanctions enforcement is directed against individual entities responsible for helping Iran to avoid sanctions, particularly during the period of nuclear negotiations that led to development of the Joint Plan of Action. However, no punitive actions against Iran itself have been announced.
The New York Times’ coverage of this story goes on to quote Mark Dubowitz, executive direct of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, as saying, “My sense is that the Obama administration is trying to counter charges that it is willing to overlook all Iranian provocations in order to ensure that nothing interferes with a nuclear deal.”
While the actions being taken against Li, Aqili, and Nizami may cut-off Iran from some of its illicit sources of sanctions relief, or at least complicate their relationships, reports from elsewhere on the globe indicate that Iran may retain other channels for selling oil and obtaining military goods in violation of Western sanctions. In particular, there Russia and Iran have engaged in talks relevant to this topic.