Cleverly warns Iran of more sanctions after leaked Russia weapons contract

The UK Government has warned Iran that it could impose more sanctions after a leaked contract purported to show their defence ministry had sold more than £800,000 ($1 million) in weapons and munitions to Russia to be used in their “special military operation” in Ukraine. James Cleverly, the UK foreign secretary, said he will look “very carefully” at the new evidence and respond accordingly, which has not yet been corroborated as fact, but added that, ultimately: “Russia has already chosen its partner of choice in the Middle East, and that is Iran.”

The UK has placed three rounds of sanctions on Iranian officials and businessmen but is yet to heed increasing calls to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces, as a terrorist organisation.

When the leaked contract was raised to Mr Cleverly during a recent press conference, the foreign secretary promised to “respond accordingly” but added that sanctions had already been put in place.

He said: “Look, we know that Iran has given military drones already to Russia – we’ve sanctioned both companies and individuals as a direct response to that.

“So obviously, any credible evidence that there is further military support, we would look at very, very carefully. And we will respond accordingly.”

But, he added: “It seems that Russia has already chosen its partner of choice in the Middle East, and that is Iran.

“I think that should be a salutary lesson to everyone else in the region. And we will, of course, make sure that any sanctions that we have in place are enforced.”

The leaked 16-page contract, given to Sky News by an informed security source, dated September 14, 2022, appeared to show Iran sold samples of varying sizes of artillery, tank shells and rockets to Russia to the value of just over £800,000.

It was shared by the source along with five pages of an allegedly linked contract that includes barrels for a T-72 tank and barrels for a Howitzer artillery piece, as well as ammunition shells. That deal was worth about £590,000 ($740,000).

If authentic, it would conclusively prove the long-held suspicion among Western powers that Iran, itself viewed as an aggressor in its local Middle East region, has been supplying Russian with weapons to kill and injure innocent Ukrainian civilians, as well as engage in an illegal occupation of a sovereign nation.

Thousands of Iranian-made Shahed kamikaze drones have been used in Russia’s long range strikes against Ukrainian cities hundreds of miles behind the frontlines but Iran has consistently denied its involvement.

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Over the last eight months, the UK has sanctioned Iranian military officials, as well as business individuals, three times, first on October 20, then on December 13, and finally on February 23.

In October, the Foreign Office accused Iran of “actively warmongering” by supplying Russia with deadly kamikaze drones and slapped its most stringent package of sanctions on military officials since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Europe last February.

Brigadier General Saeed Aghajani, the head of the IRGC’s Aerospace Force, was among three military officials subjected to an “asset freeze and travel ban”, while drone manufacturer Shahed Aviation Industries was subject to an asset freeze as well.

Three further individuals, including Abdollah Mehrabi, chief of the IRGC ASF’s Research, as well as one more manufacturer, were sanctioned in December.

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And in February this year, five senior Iranian executives in Qods Aviation Industry, the company manufacturing the drones used in Ukraine, were also sanctioned.

It is unclear how further sanctions could manifest themselves but there is increasing parliamentary pressure to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.

The legal change would mean it becomes a criminal offence in the UK to belong to the group or support its activities, and would symbolise a hardened stance towards Iran’s military branch.

The IRGC was set up over 40 years ago to defend Iran’s Islamic revolution and is now one of the most powerful paramilitary organisations in the Middle East. It has huge military, political and economic influence, using its vast funds to support allied governments and militant groups across the region, including Hezbollah in Palestine and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Whitehall sources at the start of this year said no announcement was imminent and many details remained to be sorted out but it was “broadly correct” to say the government did intend to proscribe the IRGC under the Terrorism Act 2000.

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