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US imposes fresh sanctions over Iran drone procurement

The US Treasury Department designated four entities and three people, including one based in Turkey, accused of aiding Iran's drone and weapons programs.
The US Treasury building in Washington, DC, on Dec. 19, 2021.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled new sanctions targeting individuals in Iran and Turkey accused of procuring equipment, including European-made engines, for the Islamic Republic's drone and weapons programs. 

In coordination with the FBI, the US Treasury Department designated four entities and three people it said were part of a network operating on behalf of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, which oversees several firms involved in developing the country’s drone and ballistic missile technology. 

Those hit with sanctions Tuesday include the Defense Technology and Science Research Center, an Iran-based firm conducting defense-related procurement that was previously sanctioned by the European Union. 

Also added to the Treasury Department’s blacklist was Turkish citizen Murat Bukey, whom Spanish authorities arrested in Barcelona in September 2021 at the request of US prosecutors. Among other things, Treasury accused Bukey of selling more than 100 European-origin drone engines to companies that likely shipped them to Iran. Last year, a Spanish court ruled in favor of his extradition to the United States. 

“Iran’s well-documented proliferation of UAVs and conventional weapons to its proxies continues to undermine both regional security and global stability,” said Brian Nelson, Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“The United States will continue to expose foreign procurement networks in any jurisdiction that supports Iran’s military industrial complex,” Nelson said in a statement.

Western officials say Tehran has provided Moscow with hundreds of its cheaply made unmanned aircraft for use in Ukraine, which also serves as a testing ground for Iran's drone warfare in the Middle East. 

The United States has responded with a slew of sanctions aimed at squeezing Iran’s drone production and transfer to Russia, which the Biden administration says may be contributing to “widespread war crimes” in Ukraine. 

The Treasury Department designated a China-based network on March 9 over its alleged sale and shipment of aerospace components to an Iranian firm involved in the production of Shahed-136 drones. US officials say Iran has sent Shahed-136 drones to Russia and also used them in its attacks on oil tankers. 

Iran has acknowledged providing drones to Moscow but says it did so prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2021. Its provision of drones to Russia has exacerbated tensions with the United States, already running high over Iranian nuclear activities and its violent crackdown on anti-government protests.

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