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Tehran blasts 'completely contradictory' move

US slaps sanctions on Iran drone commander behind attack on Israeli-linked ship

Saeed Aghajani and two companies helping IRGC build unmanned vehicles put on Treasury blacklist; he had been named by Gantz in August as person planning and carrying out attacks

Illustrative: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard's aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called 'Gaza,' in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)
Illustrative: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, left, and the Guard's aerospace division commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh talk while unveiling a new drone called 'Gaza,' in an undisclosed location in Iran, in a photo released on May 22, 2021. (Sepahnews of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, via AP)

The US Treasury hit Iran’s drone program with sanctions on Friday, boosting pressure on Tehran ahead of the reopening of negotiations on the country’s nuclear program.

The Treasury said lethal unmanned aerial vehicles from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been used to attack US forces and international shipping in the Gulf region.

The drones have also been supplied to Hezbollah, Hamas and Yemen’s Houthis, and have also been seen in Ethiopia, “where the escalating crisis threatens to destabilize the broader region,” the Treasury said.

The sanctions singled out Brigadier General Saeed Aghajani, who leads the Revolutionary Guards’ UAV Command.

The Treasury said that Aghajani was behind a 2019 drone attack on an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia as well as the July 29, 2021 attack on the Mercer Street commercial ship operated by an Israeli-owned firm off the coast of Oman that saw two crewmen killed.

“Iranian forces have been responsible for several high-profile attacks against international shipping over the last few years, including two prior incidents this year alone,” the Treasury said.

Tugboats are moored next to the Israeli-linked tanker MT Mercer Street, off the Fujairah port in the United Arab Emirates, on August 3, 2021. (Karim Sahib/AFP)

“The imposition of new sanctions reflects the completely contradictory behavior of the White House, [which] speaks of its intention to return to the nuclear accord and continues to impose sanctions,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state media shortly after the announcement from Washington.

The US has stated its interest in reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but Tehran has not returned to talks on a joint US-Iran return to the accord since June.

In August, Defense Minister Benny Gantz named Aghajani publicly as the head of the IRGC drone unit responsible for the assault on the tanker and other UAV attacks, in a briefing with envoys from countries on the United Nations Security Council.

“The UAV command conducted the attack on Mercer Street,” he said. “Saeed Aghajani plans and provides the training and equipment to conduct terror attacks in the region.”

Also named to the sanctions blacklist were two companies, Kimia Part Sivan and Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar, which provide components for and help develop the armed UAVs of the Revolutionary Guards.

“Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region threatens international peace and stability,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement.

“Treasury will continue to hold Iran accountable for its irresponsible and violent acts,” he said.

The sanctions came nine days after an attack on a US military base in Al-Tanf, Syria, that involved drones.

The Pentagon has not identified the source of that incident, which did not cause any injuries, but says generally that Iran has provided drones for such attacks around the region.

Illustrative: The Saudi military displays what they say are an Iranian cruise missile and drones used in recent attacks on its oil industry at Saudi Aramco’s facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, during a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

“We have seen these kinds of attacks in the past from — from Shia militia groups, which we know are backed and supported by Iran,” Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.

The sanctions were also announced just two days after Iran said it will resume talks with world powers in November on reviving a nuclear deal.

That commitment came after a five-month gap which saw mounting warnings that international patience was wearing thin with Tehran.

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