Thu, 18 Jul 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order imposing 'hard-hitting' sanctions on Iran, including on the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, amid growing concerns the two countries are headed toward military conflict.

The new sanctions will deny Iran's leader and those close to him of "access to key financial resources and support,' Trump said as he signed the document in the Oval Office on June 24, adding that it was punishment for the Islamic republic's "provocative" actions in recent weeks.

Trump said he would "continue to increase pressure" on Iran until the regime ended its "dangerous activities and its aspirations," including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, development of ballistic missiles, and support of terrorism.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said later in the day that Trump had authorized him to impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this week, a move some said would be a sign that the U.S. administration is not interested in de-escalation.

"This is a clear attempt to stop any attempt at diplomacy," Carl Bildt, Sweden's former foreign minister, tweeted after Mnuchin's comment.

"I think this is unprecedented in the global annals of diplomacy and foreign affairs," he added.

Zarif accused the Trump administration of having a "thirst for war,' while Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, said his country will not hold talks with the United States under the threat of sanctions, which he described as 'warfare' against his people.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi tweeted that the 'useless' U.S. sanctions against Khamenei and Zarif meant the 'permanent closure of the path of diplomacy.'

Trump said on June 21 that he came within minutes of executing strikes against Iran in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. military drone a day earlier.

The United States said the drone was in international waters when Iran knocked it out of the sky with a surface to air missile. Iran said the drone was flying over its territory.

The drone incident followed two attacks earlier this month on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The United States blamed Iran, which denied it was behind the sabotage.

Gulf Tension

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on June 24 with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as he seeks to build a coalition against Tehran.

Trump said the United States didn't "ask for conflict" with Iran and hoped to reach an agreement with Tehran soon.

"We would love to be able to negotiate a deal if they want to," he said.

The new round of sanctions signed on June 24 also includes eight high-ranking members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The sanctions freeze all their property in the United States and effectively prevent any individual or entity from doing any financial transactions with them.

The new sanctions will lock up billions of dollars in Iranian assets, Mnuchin said.

Trump made taking a tough stance toward Iran and its nuclear program a key element of his 2016 campaign and has followed through on that promise since coming to power.

Last year, he withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that sought to curb the country's nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

Trump called the agreement "short-sighted" and claimed that under its terms Iran would have been able to develop nuclear weapons in a few years.

"The [2015] agreement that was signed was a disaster. It was not doing what it was supposed to do," he said.

Former U.S. officials and allied states have called Trump's withdrawal flawed.

Iran's Growth Plummets

The president has imposed sanctions on more than 900 Iranian individuals and companies since 2018, squeezing the oil-producing country financially.

As a result, Iran's economy contracted by 4 percent in 2018 and is forecast to tumble by 6 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. The nation's currency has plummeted and there are reports of shortages of food and medicine.

Earlier this month, Trump's administration imposed sanctions on Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company, Iran's largest petrochemical company and one of its biggest exporters, further stifling its economy.

The UN Security Council met behind closed doors on June 24 at the request of the United States, whose acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said that Trump's policy was aimed at bringing Iran back to the negotiating table.

However, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the mounting sanctions may have the opposite effect.

"The logic of his policy of [economic] pressure is that sooner or later Iran will push back and do something that compels us to attack. War will only be avoided if Trump offers Iran a legitimate diplomatic off-ramp," he said in a tweet before the new sanctions were officially announced.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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