The U.S. seeks to sharpen pressure on the leaders of Iran.
The Obama administration Wednesday sanctioned eight senior Iranian officials for alleged human rights violations as it sought to increase pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime while reaching out to his opponents in Iran.
The eight — who include the head of the Revolutionary Guard, top security officials and prosecutors — are responsible for a number of abuses since the disputed presidential election of 2009, U.S. officials said.
“On these officials’ watch, or under their command, Iranian citizens have been arbitrarily arrested, beaten, tortured, raped, blackmailed and killed,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in announcing the sanctions.
Any U.S. assets held by the eight officials will be frozen, and they will be barred from receiving visas or doing business in the United States. Although none of the Iranians are known to have sizable financial ties to the United States, American officials said they hoped that the sanctions would further discourage international businesses from doing business with Iran.
The U.S. and its allies have imposed a series of economic sanctions on Iran over the last several months in hopes of persuading it to scale back its nuclear program. The U.S. and many other nations believe that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at acquiring the ability to build a bomb. Iran says its goal is power generation.
The eight officials sanctioned include Mohammed Ali Jafari, commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, which controls much of the Iranian economy, and one of his top deputies, Hossein Taeb.
The names appear to target one faction of Iran’s elite: conservative hard-liners close to Ahmadinejad who are believed to have been behind the months-long crackdown against mostly peaceful Iranian protesters last year.
Left off the list is Ahmadinejad himself, as well as conservatives perceived as more moderate, such as parliament Speaker Ali Larijani or former conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai.
The announcement represented the first time the U.S. has sanctioned Iranians for human rights abuses, and it marked another move by the Obama administration to show support for opponents of the regime.
On Wednesday, U.S. authorities also put into effect a prohibition on imports of Iranian rugs and carpets. Also barred are Iranian pistachios and other foods.
U.S. officials would like to see opposition groups in Iran build pressure for reform from within. But they have moved carefully out of concern that reaching out could be read as a sign that the dissenters were collaborating with Washington.
Ray Takeyh, a former Iran advisor to the administration, said the sanctions “send an important message to the Iranian government that our objections to their behavior aren’t limited to technical violations of their nuclear pledges.”
He said that although it was a challenge for the administration to figure out how to connect with the opposition, the U.S. gesture would be well received.
The sanctions announcement comes amid signs of increasing economic and political strains in Iran. The value of Iran’s currency has dropped more than 20% since March, and the Central Bank announced emergency measures Wednesday to support it, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
U.S. officials contend that this year’s sanctions, which have been imposed by both the United Nations and individual countries, led by the United States and the European Union, have forced many international businesses to cut off contacts with Iran.
The sanctions do not have universal support.
Russia supported the U.N. sanctions but objected to the tougher unilateral sanctions, saying they may hurt Russian companies wanting to invest in Iran’s energy sector. Russian diplomats tried at last week’s United Nations General Assembly session to rally support from other nations — mainly China, India, Brazil and Turkey — that also want to invest in Iranian energy.