US sanctions Chinese companies for Iran oil imports: Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it is "quite possible" that Iran was behind recent security incidents in the region POOL/AFP/File / Pavel Golovkin

The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions on Chinese companies for buying Iranian oil, stepping up pressure despite European attempts to arrange talks between Washington and Tehran.

Speaking to a pressure group opposed to the Iranian regime on the sidelines of the United Nations, Pompeo said the actions were in response to violations of unilateral US sanctions.

"We're telling China, and all nations -- know that we will sanction every violation of sanctions of all activity," Pompeo told United Against a Nuclear Iran.

He said that sanctions were being placed both on the companies and on their chief executives.

Pompeo said that the United States was also aiming to split the elite Revolutionary Guards from the rest of the Iranian company.

The unit, known formally as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is in charge of protecting the regime and has vast business holdings.

"The United States will intensify our efforts to educate countries and companies on the risk of doing business with IRGC entities, and we will punish them if they persist in defiance of our warnings," Pompeo said.

The actions come as France leads last-minute efforts to arrange a meeting at the United Nations between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to defuse tensions.