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US sanctions Iran's petrochemicals industry in latest round of pressure

Fresh sanctions come as part of Trump administration's 'maximum pressure' strategy on Iranian government
Petrochemicals plant in southwest Iran in 2001 (AFP/File photo)

The United States has sanctioned an Iranian petrochemical holdings group, the Treasury Department announced, the latest move in Washington's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran.

In a statement on Friday, the department said it authorised sanctions against Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company, "Iran's largest and most profitable petrochemical holding group".

The Treasury Department said the move was ordered because the company provides financial support to Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, the engineering conglomerate of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Trump administration designated the IRGC as a terrorist group in April.

"This action is a warning that we will continue to target holding groups and companies in the petrochemical sector and elsewhere that provide financial lifelines to the IRGC," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday.

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The fresh sanctions come amid weeks of escalating tensions between Iran and the US.

Last month, US officials accused the Iranian government of planning to attack American forces and interests in the Middle East.

While Iran rejected the allegation, the Trump administration sent a US naval strike group to the Gulf as a show of strength that aimed to send a "clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime".

Just this week, the top American military commander in the Middle East told NBC News he believed Iran or its proxies still pose an "imminent threat" to the US.

Tehran has also been blamed for the alleged "sabotage" of four vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on 14 May, but Iranian leaders have denied that accusation, as well.

Wide network sanctioned

In addition to imposing sanctions on the Persian Gulf Petrochemicals, the US Treasury Department said on Friday that 39 of the company's subsidiaries and foreign-based sales agents will also be subjected to sanctions.

Two of those sales agents are based in the UAE, the department said in its statement.

That network comprises 40 percent of Iran's petrochemical production capacity, the US Treasury said, and produces half of the country's total petrochemical exports.

US President Donald Trump previously sanctioned Iran's metals industry, and reimposed strict economic sanctions on its oil sector last autumn.

Those measures came after he pulled the US out of a 2015 multilateral accord under which Iran had agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

That move was panned by some of Washington's closest allies in Europe, who remain committed to the agreement, and have since looked for ways to get around the US sanctions.

A war of words between American and Iranian officials has also accompanied the recent escalation between the two countries.

This week, the US president said Iran was "failing as a nation", while Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Trump's presidency was "a sign of America's political decline".