Iran in 2021: U.S. Sanctions

In 2021, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran for issues ranging from election interference to drone proliferation and oil smuggling. In January, during the last weeks of the Trump administration, the United States expanded sanctions on Iran’s defense, shipping, and metals industries. It also designated two major foundations controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Biden administration imposed sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities connected to Iran, but they were relatively narrow in scope. For example, in March, the State Department designated two Revolutionary Guards interrogators for torturing political prisoners and protestors in the first new sanctions on Iran under Biden. In November, Treasury Department designated six Iranian men and one company, Emennet Pasargad, for attempting to interfere with the 2020 U.S. presidential election. 

 Sanctioned Emennet Employees 

The Biden administration kept in place nearly all of the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign. But the Biden administration also demonstrated its willingness to lift sanctions following a change of behavior or status of designated individuals or entities. In June, the Treasury Department delisted three former Iranian officials and two companies formerly involved in the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing of Iranian petrochemical products. The following is a timeline of U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran, its allies, and partners in 2021.


Jan. 5, 2021: The Treasury Department sanctioned 12 Iranian and four foreign-based companies as well as one Iranian man involved with steel production and sales. “The Trump Administration remains committed to denying revenue flowing to the Iranian regime as it continues to sponsor terrorist groups, support oppressive regimes, and seek weapons of mass destruction,” Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. The action was taken pursuant to Executive Order 13871, issued in May 2019, which prohibited transactions related to Iran’s aluminum, copper, iron and steel sectors. Steel and other metals have historically accounted for some 10 percent of export revenue, the biggest source of revenue after oil. 

Jan. 8, 2021: The Treasury Department sanctioned Falih al Fayyadh, Chairman of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Commission (PMC) and former National Security Advisor to the Iraqi Prime Minister, for human rights abuses. Fayyadh headed the PMC when its forces, including militias supported by Iran, allegedly fired live ammunition at Iraqi anti-government protestors who began demonstrating in October 2019. “Iran-aligned PMC forces continue to wage a murderous campaign against political activists in Iraq who are calling for free and fair elections, respect for human rights, and transparent and accountable governance,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Jan. 13, 2021:The United States sanctioned two major foundations, along with their heads and subsidiaries, controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The two bonyads (charitable organizations), Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order and Astan Quds Razavi, have accumulated vast wealth through involvement in many sectors, including construction, agriculture, energy, telecommunications and financial services. “These institutions enable Iran’s elite to sustain a corrupt system of ownership over large parts of Iran’s economy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. A total of three individuals and 16 entities were designated

Jan. 15, 2021: The United States expanded sanctions on Iran’s defense and shipping industries during President Donald Trump’s last full week in office. The administration sanctioned three weapons manufacturers, seven international shipping companies and two Iranian business executives.

The defense industry sanctions punished Iran for transferring conventional arms to its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. “This military equipment, which includes attack boats, missiles, and combat drones, provides a means for the Iranian regime to perpetrate its global terror campaign,” Secretary of State Pompeo said. The sanctions targeted three branches of Iran’s defense ministry: the Marine Industries Organization (MIO), Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), and the Iran Aviation Industries Organization (IAIO).

The shipping sanctions targeted Iranian, Chinese and Emirati businesses that did business with Iran’s national maritime shipping company, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL). The companies shipped raw or partially finished steel products to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, the State Department alleged. The administration also sanctioned Mohammad Reza Modarres Khiabani, the CEO of IRISL, and Hamidreza Azimian, the CEO of Mobarakeh Steel Company. 

Jan. 19, 2021: The State Department added 15 metals to its list of banned imports to Iran, including seven types of aluminum, six types of steel and two types of zirconium. Secretary of State Pompeo claimed that the metals were “used in connection with Iran’s nuclear, military or ballistic missile programs.” He threatened sanctions against companies that transferred the metals to Iran’s construction sector, which he said was controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “The IRGC’s construction firm and many of its subsidiaries remain sanctioned by the United Nations because they were directly involved in the clandestine construction of the uranium enrichment site at Fordow,” Pompeo said.

March 2, 2021: The United States sanctioned two Houthi rebel commanders, Mansur al Saadi and Ahmad Ali Ahsan al Hamzi, for orchestrating attacks “impacting Yemeni civilians, bordering nations, and commercial vessels in international waters.” Al Saadi and al Hamzi “command forces that worsening the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea M. Gacki said. 

March 9, 2021: The United States designated two IRGC interrogators in the first new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration on Iran. Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safadri were involved in torturing political prisoners and protesters detained during anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020 sparked by a gas price hike. The sanctions blocked them and their immediate family members from entry into the United States.  

May 20, 2021: The Biden administration sanctioned two Houthi military commanders leading the rebel offensive on Yemen’s Marib province. The Treasury sanctioned Muhammad Abd al Karim al Ghamari, the Head of the General Staff of the Houthi military. The State Department designated Yusuf al Madani, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. “We are promoting accountability for Houthi actions that perpetuate conflict in Yemen and undermine peace efforts,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “The Houthis benefit from generous military support from the Iranian government to wage attacks against civilian population centers and commercial shipping infrastructure in Yemen.” 

June 10, 2021: The United States lifted sanctions on three former Iranian officials and two companies previously involved in buying, selling, or transporting Iranian petrochemical products. One company was based in Hong Kong, and the other was based in mainland China. “These actions demonstrate our commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in status or behavior by sanctioned persons,” Secretary of State Blinken said. The Treasury clarified that the three men were no longer working for entities tied to Iran’s government. The delisting was announced two days ahead of the sixth round of talks on bringing Iran and the United States back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. 

Aug. 13, 2021: The U.S. Treasury sanctioned an oil smuggling network for supporting the Qods Force, the external operations branch of the IRGC. The Qods Force “has been using revenue from Iranian petroleum sales to fund its malign activities,” Secretary of State Blinken said. An Omani oil broker used several companies, including one based in Romania and one registered in Liberia, to sell Iranian oil abroad. The Qods Force was sanctioned in 2007 for supporting terrorist groups across the Middle East.  

Sept. 3, 2021: The Treasury Department sanctioned four Iranian intelligence operatives who plotted to abduct an Iranian-American activist. “Iran’s attempt to kidnap a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil because she used her freedom of speech to criticize the Iranian government is unacceptable and an egregious violation of fundamental international norms,” Secretary of State Blinken said. He added that the plan was part of a broader effort to silence Iranian dissidents in Britain, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.  

Sept. 17, 2021: The Treasury Department sanctioned facilitators and front companies in the Middle East and Far East that helped fund Hezbollah and the IRGC’s elite Qods Force. It designated 11 individuals in China, Kuwait, and Lebanon, as well as eight entities in China and Hong Kong. The networks collectively laundered tens of millions of dollars by trading in gold and electronics, exploiting regional financial systems and using currency exchange operations.  

Oct. 8, 2021: The Treasury Department delisted Mammut Industries and its subsidiary, Mammut Diesel, which had been designated in 2020 for involvement in Iran’s missile program. The Treasury Department clarified that the delisting did not reflect a change in policy. “They have nothing to do with JCPOA negotiation efforts. The United States will continue to counter Iran's destabilizing activities, including through implementation of our sanctions,” a representative said. The delisting appeared to follow legal proceedings.

Oct. 29, 2021: The United States sanctioned four men and two companies for supporting Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) programs run by the IRGC and its external operations arms, the Qods Force. “Iran’s proliferation of UAVs across the region threatens international peace and stability. Iran and its proxy militants have used UAVs to attack U.S. forces, our partners, and international shipping,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said. “Treasury will continue to hold Iran accountable for its irresponsible and violent acts.” 

Nov. 18, 2021: The United States sanctioned six Iranian men and one entity for attempting to interfere with the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Sectary of State Antony Blinken said that the move represents “the collective efforts of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” The U.S. government “took decisive and disruptive action against those seeking to interfere with the sanctity of our elections,” he added.  

Dec. 7, 2021: The Treasury Department sanctioned eight Iranian officials as well as the Law Enforcement Forces Special Units, Counter-Terror Special Forces, Isfahan Central Prison, and Zahedan Prison for human rights abuses. Most were involved in the harsh crackdown on protests in November 2019 sparked by a gas price hike. The various units “used excessive and lethal force, firing upon unarmed protestors, including women and children, with automatic weapons,” according to the Treasury Department.