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US sanctions 5 companies with alleged ties to Iran's missile programme

Imposed sanctions may lock EU firms working with those companies out of US financial system
Five designated companies are all subsidiaries of Iran's Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group (AFP)

The United States on Thursday sanctioned five Iranian-based entities it said were owned or controlled by an industrial firm responsible for developing and producing Iran's solid-propellant ballistic missiles.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin linked the measure to recent anti-government protests, arguing that Iran ought to spend more on public welfare rather than banned weapons.

"These sanctions target key entities involved in Iran's ballistic missile programme, which the Iranian regime prioritises over the economic well-being of the Iranian people," Mnuchin said.

"As the Iranian people suffer, their government and the IRGC fund foreign militants, terrorist groups, and human rights abuses," he added.

"The United States will continue to decisively counter the Iranian regime's malign activity, including additional sanctions targeting human rights abuses.  

"We will not hesitate to call out the regime's economic mismanagement, and diversion of significant resources to fund threatening missile systems at the expense of its citizenry."

The five designated companies are all subsidiaries of Iran's Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group (SBIG).

Under the sanctions, any assets that the firms hold in places under US jurisdiction will be frozen and US citizens are forbidden from doing business with them.

And, perhaps more importantly, foreign institutions that work with the companies may be locked out of the US financial system - a risk that European banks, for example, would be loath to take.  

Earlier, the State Department warned that Iranian officials involved in the arrest or killing of protesters would be held to account. 

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"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the deaths to date and the arrests of at least 1,000 Iranians," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

"We have ample authorities to hold accountable those who commit violence against protesters, contribute to censorship, or steal from the people of Iran," she said.

"To the regime's victims, we say: 'You will not be forgotten.'"

Popular unrest flared in Iran last month and at least 21 people are reported to have died in clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

Washington, a long-standing foe of Tehran, voiced its support for the protesters.

"We support these legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people, and call on the government to allow the free exchange of ideas and information," she said.

"All of us should be able to enjoy the same basic economic and political freedoms, including the right to peaceful demonstration."

Iranian officials now say that the crisis is under control and state television is carrying footage of pro-government counter demonstrations in several cities.