WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on an Iranian company it accused of coordinating military flights to transport Iranian drones to Russia and three other companies it said were involved in the production of Iranian drones.
The United States accuses Iran of supplying drones to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine, which Tehran has denied.
The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said it designated Tehran-based Safiran Airport Services, accusing it of coordinating Russian military flights between Iran and Russia, including those associated with transporting drones, personnel and related equipment.
The Treasury also designated Paravar Pars Company, Design and Manufacturing of Aircraft Engines and Baharestan Kish Company, accusing them of being involved in the research, development, production and procurement of Iranian drones.
The Treasury singled out Paravar Pars Company for involvement in the reverse engineering of U.S. and Israeli-made drones, without specifying which models. Reuters has reported that some of Iran's drones are based on unmanned aircraft from other countries, including an aerial U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel reconnaissance drone captured in 2011.
Also designated was Baharestan Kish Company’s managing director and a member of its board of directors, Rehmatollah Heidari.
"The Russian military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine, in part because of sanctions and export controls, forcing Russia to turn to unreliable countries like Iran for supplies and equipment," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday, adding the United States will "hold to account" those that support Russia in the invasion of Ukraine.
Last month, a U.S. official told Reuters that Russia's Iranian-made drones had suffered "numerous failures".
"We assess that Russia intends to use these Iranian UAVs, which can conduct air-to-surface attacks, electronic warfare, and targeting, on the battlefield in Ukraine," the official said.
Russia most likely planned to acquire hundreds of Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the U.S. official said.
Thousands have been killed and Ukrainian cities reduced to rubble since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February in the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special military operation."
Thursday's sanctions come as indirect talks between Iran and the United States have made only stuttering progress towards reviving a 2015 deal that put limits on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from some sanctions.
Washington's withdrawal from the deal under then-President Donald Trump in May 2018 and reimposition of sanctions prompted Tehran to breach the accord's nuclear restrictions.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Phil Stewart, Chris Gallagher and Kanishka Singh; editing by Grant McCool and Stephen Coates)