The United States Tuesday imposed financial sanctions against six Iranian individuals and five companies for alleged ties to the country's nuclear and missile programs. U.S. officials confirm meanwhile that overall trade with Iran has been increasing. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration is expanding its blacklist of Iranian firms and individuals linked to proliferation activities even while acknowledging that trade with Iran, mainly in food and medicine, has grown sharply since 2001.

The State and Treasury Departments said five Iranian companies are being added to a sanctions list, as well as six individuals including a nuclear scientist and a former Revolutionary Guard Corps commander. 

The scientist named is Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahadbadi, a senior Defense Ministry official and former head of Iran's Physics Research Center. He was previously cited in a U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution and Iran has refused to allow him to be interviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency about his work with the physics center.

The former Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, Yahya Rahim Safavi, was also cited in the 2006 U.N. resolution. He was replaced as chief of the elite force last year and became military adviser to the country's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Among the Iranian firms named is the Tehran-based company Tamas, said to be involved in uranium mining and refining.

The listing forbids U.S. business dealings with the Iranian companies and individuals and freezes any assets they may have in U.S. banks.

Officials here concede they may have few U.S. business links, but Acting State Department Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said their proliferation involvement has now  been exposed worldwide:

"The government of Iran uses firms and individuals to hide behind as they try and develop their nuclear program," he said.  "This is a known fact. And as long as they continue to do this, we are going to make this evident, and apprise our friends, allies and partners around the world of individuals who are participating in this, entities who are participating in this, so that individuals and businesses can be forewarned."

The sanctions expansion coincided with a media study released Tuesday showing U.S. exports to Iran increasing sharply during the Bush administration, which has advocated tougher trade curbs against Iran.

The Associated Press survey said U.S. shipments to Iran, though still relatively small, have increased ten-fold since 2001 despite layers of sanctions dating back to 1979.

State Department spokesman Gallegos said the intent of the trade curbs, which specifically allow shipments of food and humanitarian goods, has never been to punish the Iranian people:

"I understand that these exports have increased," he added.  "However, we believe that they are increasing to a segment of the population that we want to reach out to, that we want to know and understand that the U.S. government and the U.S. people want to be friends with them, want to work with them, to integrate them into the world economy and become partners in the future."

The Associated Press study said U.S. exporters sold Iran more than a $500 million worth of food, medicine and industrial supplies since 2001.  Most appeared to fall into the broad category of humanitarian goods, but the report said other items including cigarettes, cosmetics, and even small arms have been shipped.