By Simon Lewis and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States took a series of steps on Wednesday to signal that Iran's missile program will remain restricted after the expiration of U.N. Security Council sanctions and to curb Iran's drone transfers to Russia.
Russia said on Tuesday that transfers of missile technology to Iran no longer needed Security Council approval as of Wednesday, when the U.N sanctions lapse, without saying whether it now planned to support Tehran's missile development.
The U.S. effort to limit Iran's missile and drone programs comes amid renewed American criticism of Tehran for backing Hamas, which carried out an Oct. 7 rampage against communities in southern Israel in which at least 1,300 people died.
The expiration of the U.N. sanctions falls under a "sunset" clause of the defunct 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which gave Tehran relief from American, European Union and U.N. sanctions in exchange for limiting its nuclear program. Former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned that deal in 2018 and restored U.S. on Iran sanctions.
While efforts by U.S. President Joe Biden's administration to revive the deal's restrictions on Iran's nuclear program have failed, the U.N. sanctions are still expiring as called for under the deal.
The U.S. Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on 11 individuals, eight entities and one vessel based in Iran, Hong Kong, China and Venezuela that enable Iran's "destabilizing ballistic missile and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs."
The United States also issued an advisory to businesses designed to prevent dual-use technologies getting to Iranian actors.
"These sanctions will exert pressure on Iran's missile and UAV program in addition to constraining Iran's conventional arms transfers and ongoing military relationships with countries like Venezuela and Russia, including Iran's provision of UAVs that Moscow is using against civilian targets in Ukraine," a senior State Department official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The State Department also planned to publish a statement from more than 45 countries that committed to countering Iranian missile-related activities via the so-called Proliferation Security Initiative, a program begun during George W. Bush's presidency designed to prevent shipments of weapons of mass destruction.
A second U.S. official said that despite U.N. sanctions expiring, "the kind of statements that are coming out of most capitals around the world make clear that Iran and Russia will remain pariahs when it comes to this situation."
The Biden administration has faced criticism from U.S. Republicans for a prisoner swap with Tehran just weeks before the Iran-aligned Palestinian militant group Hamas launched deadly attacks on Israel, sparking a major conflict that threatens to engulf the Middle East.
Under the September deal, five U.S. citizens detained by Iran were allowed to leave in exchange for the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian funds that had been frozen in South Korea to Qatar.
U.S. officials have said that the funds now in Qatar can be spent by Iran only on humanitarian goods.
U.S. officials have said they do not have evidence tying Iran to ordering or planning the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, but added that Tehran is complicit because of its long-term support for Hamas.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington and Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minnesota; Editing by Will Dunham)