UPDATE 1-U.S. imposes sanctions on key actors in Iran’s ballistic missile program

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By Arshad Mohammed and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON, March 30 (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on an Iran-based man and his network of companies it accused of helping Tehran obtain materials for its ballistic missile program, acting after missile attacks by suspected Iranian-backed proxies on countries in the region.

In a statement issued as talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have stalled, the U.S. Treasury Department said it acted after Iran’s missile attack on Erbil in Iraq and an “Iranian enabled” Houthi missile attack against a Saudi Aramco facility this month, as well as other missile attacks by Iranian proxies against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Treasury said it slapped sanctions on Iranian procurement agent Mohammad Ali Hosseini and a network of companies it accused him of using to procure ballistic missile propellant and related materials in support of Iran’s missile program.

The Treasury accused him of procuring materials for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) unit responsible for research and development of ballistic missiles. Iran’s IRGC is subject to U.S. sanctions.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the sanctions were not related to efforts to revive the nuclear deal under which Iran had limited its nuclear program to make it harder to develop a nuclear bomb – an ambition it denies – in return for relief from global economic sanctions.

“While the United States continues to seek Iran’s return to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will not hesitate to target those who support Iran’s ballistic missile program,” the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement.

Iran conducted a March 13 attack on Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s northern Kurdish region, a rare publicly declared assault by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and a missile attack by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis hit a Saudi Aramco facility on March 25.

A nascent plan for Iraq’s Kurdistan region to supply gas to Turkey and Europe – with Israeli help – is part of what angered Iran into striking Erbil with ballistic missiles this month, Iraqi and Turkish officials say.

The Houthis said they launched attacks on Saudi energy facilities on Friday and the Saudi-led coalition said oil giant Aramco’s petroleum products distribution station in Jeddah was hit, causing a fire in two storage tanks but no casualties.

The indirect U.S.-Iran nuclear talks were close to an agreement in early March before last-minute Russian demands for sweeping guarantees that would have hollowed out sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine derailed the talks.

Russia has since appeared to have narrowed its demands to cover only work linked to the nuclear deal, leaving a small number of issues to be resolved between Washington and Tehran, diplomats say. (Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Arshad Mohammed and Chris Gallagher, Editing by William Maclean)

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