Reporting from Beirut — On the same day that Iran and the West agreed to meet next week for talks on Iran's nuclear program, the U.S. announced a set of fresh sanctions on the Islamic Republic's shipping lines, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said defiantly that his nation would not budge "one iota" on giving up what he described as its rights.
It was perhaps an inauspicious launch to the first set of talks between Iran and world powers over its controversial nuclear program in 14 months.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili agreed Tuesday to hold talks in Geneva on Dec. 6-7 in an attempt to jump-start stalled negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, an announcement said. But within hours, Ahmadinejad, repeating a common mantra, said in a speech broadcast on TV that Iran "would not allow anybody to take one iota" of his nation's rights.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department cited five Iranian corporate officials and 10 businesses as having ties to either Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines or Bank Mellat, which the U.S. had previously blacklisted, alleging they support Iran's nuclear and military programs.
The companies included a Malaysian-based firm and what the U.S. described as eight front companies for Iran's state-owned shipping firm. The U.S. also named and described a group of Iranian officials with ties to the entities. United Nations, U.S. and European regulations bar dealings with any company linked to Iran's nuclear or weapons program.
"As long as Iran uses front companies, cut-outs and other forms of deception to hide its illicit activities, we intend to expose this conduct and thereby counteract Iran's attempts to evade U.S. and international sanctions," U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey said in a news release.