The United States announced sanctions Friday against seven foreign companies for selling Iran technology that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction. The affected firms are in North Korea, Cuba, India and in Russia, which has sharply criticized the U.S. action.
The seven companies, two each from Russia, India, North Korea and one from Cuba, will be barred from doing business with the U.S. government or acquiring American high-technology items under the sanctions announced Friday in the U.S. government's official journal, the Federal Register.
The sanctions are the latest to be imposed under the Iran Non-Proliferation Act of 2000, which provides penalties for sales to Iran of ballistic missile technology and other items that could contribute to Iranian weapons of mass destruction program.
The U.S. penalties, to be in place for two years, are likely to have little or no effect on the North Korean and Cuban firms, which have no known dealings with the United States.
But they could have a tangible impact on the two Indian companies, chemical exporters Balagi Amines and Prachi Poly Products, and the Russian firms - aircraft maker Sukhoi, and Rosoboronexport, which is the state agency for export of Russian military hardware.
The U.S. announcement provided no specifics on the sales that drew the sanctions, though the Bush administration has complained publicly about a $1 billion military deal signed in December under which Moscow is providing Iran with advanced "Tor" anti-aircraft missiles and helping modernize the Iranian air force.
The sanctions could affect a three-year-old agreement under which Sukhoi, best known for its military fighter jets, is working with the U.S. aerospace giant Boeing to produce a new Russian regional passenger jet.
The U.S. announcement drew an angry response from the Russian foreign ministry, which called the U.S. actions unacceptable and an unlawful attempt to force foreign companies to work by domestic American rules.
It further said the United States is punishing its own companies and taking away their possibilities to cooperate with Russian firms.
In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said he was unaware of any formal diplomatic protest from Moscow.
He stressed the sanctions move was aimed at foreign companies, not governments, and underlines the Bush administration's determination to combat weapons proliferation:
"This is a matter of U.S. law," he said. "Non-proliferation is, you know, if not the highest certainly one of the highest priorities that we have. We're very serious about it. We're serious about following this law, and the decisions rendered here, which were taken after a lot of thorough and careful review, are reflective of that."
A prominent Democrat in Congress said the action against the Indian companies raises questions about the administration's ground-breaking agreement to share civilian nuclear technology with India.
Massachusetts House member Ed Markey, a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal, said the alleged actions by the Indian firms suggest the New Delhi government is unable to fully police what he termed "bad actors" under its jurisdiction helping Iran.
Spokesman Casey defended the Indian government's non-proliferation record, saying it has a good regime in place and been cooperating with the United States, and said it is taking actions under the civil nuclear deal to further strengthen export controls.