US sanctions Chinese companies for supplying parts used in Iranian drones

US president Joe Biden’s administration has imposed new sanctions against a group of Chinese companies it said was supplying parts for Iranian drones used by Russia to fight its war in Ukraine.

The US Treasury on Thursday said five Chinese companies and one individual were “responsible for the sale and shipment of thousands of aerospace components”, including parts that could be used to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, to Tehran.

The administration citied a specific model it said Iran had used to attack oil tankers and exported to Russia in support of its war.

“Iran is directly implicated in the Ukrainian civilian casualties that result from Russia’s use of Iranian UAVs in Ukraine,” said Brian E Nelson, US under-secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence. “The US will continue to target global Iranian procurement networks that supply Russia with deadly UAVs for use in its illegal war in Ukraine.”

The action underlined deep western concerns about Iran’s military links to Moscow, accusing the Islamic republic of selling armed drones to Russia to be used in Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Iran is already subject to heavy US curbs, with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump imposing waves of sanctions on the country after he pulled the US from the 2015 nuclear accord.

The Treasury also on Thursday issued sanctions against more than three dozen companies the White House said make up a major “shadow banking” network that allowed Tehran to trade oil with foreign buyers.

Iran has consistently denied it has provided weapons to Russia since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago. Brig Gen Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani, Iran’s defence minister, this week said claims Tehran had sold armed drones to Russia to use in its war with Ukraine had not “been proven”.

Yet a declassified report released this year by the US Defense Intelligence Agency compared the UAVs that Moscow had deployed in Ukraine with Iranian-made drones in the Middle East to show that many of those that Russia has used in Ukraine were from Iran.

Washington’s move comes after US officials accused China of considering supplying weapons to Russia and warned Beijing against it.

Biden in February said he did not “anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to Russia” but he “would respond” if Beijing did so. The Chinese companies were named by the US as Koto Machinery, Raven, Guilin Alpha, S&C Trade and Caspro.

The separate tranche of US sanctions announced on Thursday targets 39 entities operating in Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. The Biden administration said the companies allowed Tehran to circumvent existing restrictions and gain access to the international financial system.

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said the moves “demonstrate” Washington’s “commitment to enforce our sanctions on the Iranian regime and disrupt the foreign networks upon which it relies to evade US sanctions”.

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