By Jubin Katiraie
The Trump administration stepped up pressure on Iran on Wednesday, imposing fresh sanctions on an oil shipping network with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and offering a reward of up to $15 million for information that could disrupt its faltering economy even further.
The Treasury Department said that the Quds Force, a unit of the elite Revolutionary Guards responsible for external operations, had backed both the Assad regime and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah through crude oil shipments, mostly to Syria.
"The Iranian regime is leveraging a terrorist organization as its chief conduit for obfuscating and selling hundreds of millions of dollars of illicit oil to fuel its nefarious agenda," said Sigal Mandelker, the Undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The State Department said separately that it was offering a $15 million reward for information that can disrupt the financial mechanisms of the Revolutionary Guards, including the Quds Force.
The entities that are facing the new sanctions include the India-based Mehdi Group and its director Ali Zaheer Mehdi, which the Treasury Department said has managed vessels for Iranian oil.
"There will be more sanctions coming," Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran, told reporters at the State Department. "We can't make it any clearer that we are committed to this campaign of max pressure."
The sanctions announced by the State and Treasury departments target 16 firms, 10 people and 11 vessels involved in what US officials say is a network controlled by the IRGC that ships millions of dollars' worth of oil, mostly to Syria, in violation of American sanctions.
Companies or individuals doing business with the shipping network also could be exposed to punishing US financial measures.
The US singled out the Mehdi Group for providing crews and vessels used by the network, as well as several affiliates and other firms based in Lebanon, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement the sanctions on the shipping network are intended to make it "explicitly clear that those purchasing Iranian oil are directly supporting Iran's militant and terrorist arm," the Revolutionary Guard.