- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Obama administration on Wednesday imposed economic sanctions on four Iranian companies and an Iranian official for their roles in exporting nuclear weapons technology and goods, a move analysts contend is timed to signal support for the opposition in Iran and their anticipated anti-government protests this week.

The Treasury Department announced Wendesday it is freezing the assets of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Rostam Qasemi and four construction subsidiaries affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, known as the IRGC, for their role in proliferating nuclear technology.

“As the IRGC consolidates control over broad swaths of the Iranian economy, displacing ordinary Iranian businessmen in favor of a select group of insiders, it is hiding behind companies like Khatam al-Anbiya and its affiliates to maintain vital ties to the outside world,” said Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Details about the Iranian nuclear proliferation were not disclosed.

“Today’s action exposing Khatam al-Anbiya subsidiaries will help firms worldwide avoid business that ultimately benefits the IRGC and its dangerous activities,” he said.

The IRGC are the elite Islamist shock troops behind many of Iran’s covert weapons programs, including the nuclear development effort and the growing missile program.

Patrick Clawson, a Persian speaker and deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the new sanctions against the IRGC and those who support it will also “highlight how this regime extends beyond nuclear proliferation and focus on human rights in Iran.”

In January, the Institute issued a report, focused on designing the sanctions that included a human rights component. The think tank briefed members of the administration on the report in November before it was issued.

“The U.S. government, along with its European counterparts are highlighting that the same Revolutionary Guard that is behind the nuclear program and terrorism, is also responsible for the human rights abuses against the Iranian opposition,” Mr. Clawson said. “Indeed not only is it the morally right thing to do to support the opposition in Iran, but in addition it’s easier to secure European support when the human rights component is so clearly attached, and it’s not just a nuclear component attached to it.”

Iranian opposition supporters and leaders, however, say the administration has “clearly missed the boat and the Iranian people have been abandoned by the Obama administration,” an Iranian opposition based in the U.S. said.

There is deepening concern that protests planned by the opposition, set to begin Thursday, will be met by violence from the security forces. Iranian authorities positioned security forces across Tehran Wednesday, conducting sweeps and warning citizens not to protest on Thursday.

“The Obama administration has made it abundantly clear that it is not going to support the Iranian opposition and that these sanctions are clearly about the nuclear proliferation. Anyone who says different is lying to themselves,” said a second opposition leader currently involved in the opposition movement in Iran. The opposition members spoke on the condition that their names not be used out of fear of reprisal. ‘There is, however, a growing understanding in U.S. Congress that these sanctions should be linked to human rights abuses, but that hasn’t happened so far,” the first opposition member said.

Despite Tehran’s announcement this week that it plans to enrich uranium to 20 percent levels, ostensibly for medical treatment for cancer patients - far below the 90 percent level needed in the fissile core of nuclear warheads - U.S.officials say the move is part of a covert weapons effort.

Mr. Clawson said: “The Treasury Department is highlighting that many of those firms have established new front companies and that is something they are drawing attention to.”

Gen. Qasemi commands the Guard Corps’ Khatam al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, according to a press release from the Treasury Department. Treasury officials said the construction company, listed as an engineering firm involved in the construction of streets, tunnels, waterworks, agricultural projects and pipelines, uses its earnings “to support the full range of the IRGC’s illicit activities, including WMD proliferation and support for terrorism.”

In 2007, the Bush administration imposed sanctions on Khatam al-Anbiya as well. The Obama sanctions on Wednesday effect the construction companies Qasemi and Khatam al-Anbiya subsidiaries, the Fater Engineering Institute, the Imensazen Consultant Engineers Institute, the Makin Institute and the Rahab Institute.

A U.S. national security official told The Washington Times that the “sanctions make sense when you have a government that continues to ignore and flout its international obligations.”

In Vienna, senior U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency Glyn Davies sharply criticized Iran for continuing its uranium enrichment program that officials allege is producing a higher level of uranium and raising concerns among numerous world leaders about Iran’s nuclear pursuit.

Mr. Davies said Iran is playing the role of the hypocrite for choosing to pursue “ever more dangerous nuclear technology” instead of accepting an international plan meant to assure the supply of medical isotopes to Iranian cancer patients, according to a report by the Associated Press.

A U.S. counterproliferation official told The Times there is mounting evidence and proof that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is actively involved in leading the nation’s covert nuclear program.

“The IRGC is at the center of the Iranian regime’s most sensitive initiatives, including the Iranian nuclear program,” said the counterproliferation official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S. sanctions were imposed as the administration is pressing European alies and other nations to impose more stringent economic sanctions. The sanctions also follow Iran’s announcement Tuesday that it set dozens of centrifuges spinning to begin enriching uranium stocks to a higher level.

A delegation of U.S. officials are lobbying the United Nations Security Council for those sanctions. The U.N. Security Council has already placed sanctions Iran on three separate occasions.

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