Trafficking in People.
Iran and Syria were added to a US blacklist of countries trafficking in people, a State Department report said, while raising concerns over an influx of sex workers to Germany for the World Cup soccer tournament.
Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Laos and Belize were also on the blacklist for the State Department's annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" which analyzed efforts in about 150 countries to combat trafficking for forced labor, prostitution, military service and other purposes.
The six countries join Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Sudan, Cuba and Myanmar among the "Tier 3" worst offenders of human trafficking who could face sanctions if they do not take immediate measures within 90 days.
"By calling to account any nation, friend or foe, that can and should do more to confront human trafficking, we are pressing countries into action," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in the presentation of the 290-page report.
"The harsh reality of human trafficking stuns even the hardest of hearts," she said.
The United States estimates that up to 800,000 people -- primarily women and children -- fall victims each year to trafficking, Rice said.
Iran and Syria, both of which have been accused by Washington of backing international terrorism, were cited in the report for being a "source, transit and destination country" for women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation.
The United States is currently in the forefront of international efforts to slap UN Security Council sanctions on Iran if it does not suspend uranium enrichment activities, which could lead to the manufacture of nuclear bombs.
"Iran is downgraded to Tier 3 after persistent, credible reports of Iranian authorities punishing victims of trafficking with beatings, imprisonment and execution," the State Department said.
A key criteria of US law, which is used as a basis for the rankings, is protection of human trafficking victims.
"The law specifically says victims should not be punished for acts they commit after they've been trafficked, whether it's prostitution or anything else," said John Miller, a State Department advisor on efforts to stem the problem.
"We hope this situation will change in the next year," he said.