The newest U.S. sanctions imposed on Iranian companies and individuals connected to the country’s ballistic missile program are illegitimate, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.


Hossein Jaberi Ansari, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said Washington’s weapons sales to governments in the Middle East undermine the moral basis for the new sanctions, which deny 11 companies and individuals access to the US banking system. The sanctions are not comparable to the economy-wide sanctions just lifted as a result of Iran’s nuclear agreement with the U.S. and European powers.


Still, said Ansari, “The U.S. sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile program … have no legal or moral legitimacy.”


“America sells tens of billions of dollars of weaponry each year to countries in the region,” he said. “These weapons are used in war crimes against Palestinian, Lebanese and most recently Yemeni citizens.”


On Saturday the U.S. and European Union lifted sanctions against Iran after a report by the international nuclear watchdog said the country had complied with all of the nuclear agreement’s requirements, including the dismantling of the reactor at its Arak nuclear facility.


The lifting of sanctions allows Iran to rejoin the global economy and begin selling its massive oil reserves in international markets, which could drive the price to as low as US$10 a barrel within months. It is estimated the sanctions relief could inject US$100 billion into Iran’s economy.


However, on Sunday, the U.S. imposed more limited sanctions against a number of companies, including those based in China and United Arab Emirates, and five individuals for supplying Iran with material and funds for its ballistic missile program, which the U.S. claims could be useful in helping Iran deliver a nuclear weapon. ​


Adam J. Szubin, U.S. acting under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the country’s “ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security.”


A U.N. resolution passed in July 2015 “called upon” Iran to refrain from ballistic missile testing as part of the pending nuclear agreement.


​Iran’s response to the latest sanctions comes one day after four U.S. citizens were freed from an Iranian jail in a prisoner swap deal between the two countries. Among the those returning to the U.S. were Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who had been charged with espionage and three other serious crimes, including “collaborating with hostile governments” and “propaganda against the establishment.”