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US sanctions Iran drone suppliers for arming Russia in Ukraine

The Treasury Department announced designations on six executives and board members with Qods Aviation Industries.
Iranian missile Sevom-Khordad on display during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in the capital Tehran on Sept. 22, 2022.

WASHINGTON — The United States issued new sanctions Friday over the supply of drones used in Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure across Ukraine.

The Treasury Department announced designations on six executives and board members at Qods Aviation Industries (QAI), a previously sanctioned Iranian defense manufacturer also known as Light Airplanes Design and Manufacturing Industries. QAI has reportedly worked with Iran’s Defense Ministry and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on aviation and air defense-related projects, including the manufacture of Mohajer-6 drones.

The targets unveiled Friday include Seyed Hojatollah Ghoreishi, the chair of QAI’s board of directors who the Treasury describes as responsible for negotiating Iran’s armed drone agreement with Russia. ​​It named the defense firm’s managing director, Ghassem Damavandian, as having trained Russian personnel on the use of QAI-manufactured drones.

The department also designated Nader Khoon Siavash for his involvement in Iran’s ballistic missile program as director of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization. According to the Treasury, Iran’s Central Bank has siphoned millions in discounted foreign currency to the aerospace organization each year.

As its arsenal of advanced weaponry dwindled, Russia turned to cheap Iranian-manufactured drones for use in Ukraine. In a further sign of Russian-Iranian defense cooperation, the US government confirmed in October that Iranian military trainers helped Russian drone pilots in occupied Crimea conduct strikes against Ukrainian positions.

Tehran has acknowledged providing drones to Moscow, but says it did so prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Despite ample evidence, Russia denies having used Iran’s Shahed- and Mohajer- series drones.

“Iran has now become Russia’s top military backer,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “Iran must cease its support for Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine, and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt and delay these transfers and impose costs on actors engaged in this activity.”

The Biden administration has said it will continue to look for ways to target Iran’s drone production, including through sanctions and export controls. The White House has also created a task force to study how US and Western-made technology is ending up in the drones, CNN reported.

In September, the Treasury Department sanctioned an Iranian air transportation service provider and three companies for their alleged involvement in the drones’ production and shipment to Russia.

In November, the department designated several firms linked to the production or transfer of Iranian drones to Russia including the Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center, which it accused of manufacturing the single-use Shahed-136 drones that struck civilian targets in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities in mid-October.

Iran’s involvement in Russia’s war comes as multilateral talks to revive the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, have all but collapsed. The United States says Iran’s shipment of drones to Russia violates the missile restrictions under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal.

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