The Obama administration on Sunday announced new sanctions on companies that he said were working to advance Iran's ballistic-missile program. The sanctions, which apply to 11 people and companies, were issued under U.S. restrictions that remain in place despite the lifting Saturday of international sanctions tied to Iran's nuclear program.
The White House announced the new sanctions well after a flight was underway taking three Americans released by Iran to Germany for medical checkups. The plane carrying Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and two other Americans left Tehran on Sunday after the implementation of a landmark agreement on Iran's nuclear program.
President Barack Obama on Sunday hailed the nuclear agreement and the prisoner deal with Iran that led to the release of the detained U.S. citizens. He said that although profound differences remain between Washington and Tehran, the Iranian people now have a chance to end their isolation and "begin building new ties with the world."
Iran freed Rezaian and three other Americans on Saturday in exchange for U.S. clemency offered to seven Iranians charged or imprisoned for sanctions violations and the dismissal of outstanding charges against 14 Iranians outside the U.S.
One of the four Americans who were freed chose to remain in Iran. A fifth American was also released Saturday but was not part of the exchange deal.
Obama said Sunday that the United States "is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran's ballistic missile program" because a recent missile test by Iran was a "violation of its international obligations."
He also promised to "remain vigilant.''
That announcement came almost as an aside in an otherwise upbeat message but illustrated the continued strains despite the new relationship between the longtime enemies.
In the announcement, Obama also sought to counter criticism from GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates that his actions had appeased a nation that has aided the spread of Islamic extremism.
"We've now closed off every single path Iran had to building a (nuclear) bomb," Obama said, speaking from the White House. "We've achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East."
The Treasury Department said the new sanctions apply to a network with suspected links to North Korea; five Iranians who U.S. officials said had worked to secure ballistic-weapon components for Iran; and the Mabrooka Trading Co., based in the United Arab Emirates, and its networks based in that Persian Gulf country and in China.
Secretary of State John Kerry said of Saturday's landmark events: "We are really reminded once again of diplomacy's power to tackle significant challenges.''
In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani said the end of international sanctions marks a turning point for the country.
"While we always remain ready to defend Iran, we bear the message of peace, stability and security for our region and the world," he later tweeted.
He said that financial institutions in Iran would be able to re-engage "the banks of the world for financial and monetary purposes."
Rezaian and two of the others — Saeed Abedini, 35, of Boise, Idaho, and Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 32, of Flint, Michigan — were flown out of Tehran on Sunday and went to a U.S. hospital in Germany to receive medical checkups.
U.S. officials gave no details on why one of the four, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, did not fly out with the others.
A fifth American, identified as language student Matt Trevithick, was also released Saturday but was not part of the exchange deal.
Trevithick's parents said he had been held for 40 days in Iran. A U.S. official said Trevithick, 30, has already left Iran.
Although Iranian officials called the arrangement an "exchange," none of the seven who were granted clemency — six Iranian Americans and one with solely Iranian citizenship — were handed over to Iran, as in a traditional prisoner swap.
Instead, U.S. officials said, they were free to decide individually whether to go to Iran. At least five have chosen not to go, according to their lawyers.
Obama said the seven Iranians were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses.
This article contains material from the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press.