The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed new sanctions aimed at Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programs, acting to keep up pressure on Tehran after the expiration of United Nations restrictions on those activities.
The U.S. actions add to numerous existing measures to prevent and penalize Iran’s efforts to buy or sell technology or equipment related to its missile and drone programs, which are among the most sophisticated in the region.
In a statement on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the new penalties on several individuals and companies were meant to address “one of the greatest challenges to international peace and security.”
Mr. Blinken said that Iranian missiles posed a threat to Israel and Gulf Arab countries, and noted that Iran had transferred lethal drones to Russia, which had used them to kill civilians and destroy infrastructure in Ukraine. U.S. officials are concerned that Iran could also transfer missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine.
The U.S. move comes on the day a measure approved by the U.N. Security Council in 2015 reached its “sunset,” or expiration.
When the Security Council’s members endorsed a nuclear deal brokered with Iran by the United States and six other powers, they agreed on a related provision saying that Iran “is called upon” not to engage in activity related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
That language, which diplomats privately admitted was largely toothless but still had the effect of stigmatizing such transactions, expired on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement suggesting it would no longer feel bound by U.N. restrictions on missile trade with Iran.
But the Biden administration is determined to maintain stiff pressure on Tehran’s military activities — particularly after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas, which draws support from Iran.
The new actions, which were announced by the State Department and the Treasury Department, target 11 individuals and eight business entities based in Iran, China and Venezuela, and one vessel.
They include the Iran-based Fanavaran Sanat Ertebatat Company, which “produces jam-resistant guidance systems for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Aerospace Force Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization,” according to the Treasury Department.
The European Union announced on Tuesday that it would maintain limits it had placed on Iran’s missile activity, saying that the country was not living up to its commitments under the nuclear agreement. Tehran accelerated its nuclear activity after President Donald J. Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018.
Some Republican critics of the deal complained on Wednesday that the United States and its European allies should have taken more dramatic action, including by invoking a provision in the nuclear deal to “snap back” U.N. sanctions on Iran.
Many analysts say that would be a provocative step at a time when President Biden has sought to lower the risk of conflict over Iran’s nuclear program.
Although Iran’s nuclear activity dominates Western attention, its conventional missile system is also a source of fast-growing concern.
“Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “with thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles, some capable of striking as far as Israel and southeast Europe.”
The United States also released a joint statement on Wednesday from 46 countries that participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative, pledging to prevent and even interdict commerce that could aid Iran’s missile program.
And the State Department issued an advisory warning that Iranian companies were engaging in deceptive practices to obtain prohibited equipment, including “dual use” technology that can be used in both military equipment and consumer goods.