WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump announced Monday that he was imposing new sanctions on Iran, stepping up a policy of pressuring the nation's leaders and further squeezing the Iranian economy in retaliation for what the United States says are recent aggressive acts by Tehran.
The move came on top of sanctions imposed by the administration this spring to cut off all revenue from Iranian oil exports, the lifeblood of the nation's economy.
The new sanctions are aimed at preventing some of Iran's top officials from using the international banking system or any financial vehicles set up by European nations or other countries. But the Iranian officials most likely do not keep substantial assets in international banks, if any at all, or use those institutions for transactions, and any additional pressure from the new sanctions is likely to be minimal.
The Trump administration has found itself in a waiting game, as it watches for whether the latest clampdown on oil exports, which was announced in late April, will force the Iranian leaders to surrender to U.S. demands in exchange for economic relief.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump said the new sanctions order would bar Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and his office from access to the international financial system. The Treasury Department said it was also imposing sanctions on eight Iranian military commanders, including the head of a unit that the Americans say was responsible for shooting down a U.S. drone Thursday.
Trump acted at a time of rising concerns over Iran. Those have been prompted in part by declarations from Tehran that it is amassing more nuclear fuel, the latest evidence that Trump's withdrawal last year from a nuclear containment deal is pushing Iranian leaders to violate terms they had been abiding by until now.
"We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran until the regime abandons its dangerous activities and its aspirations, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons, increased enrichment of uranium, development of ballistic missiles, engagement and support for terrorism, fueling of foreign conflicts and belligerent acts directed against the United States and its allies," Trump said as he sat at his desk in the Oval Office preparing to sign an executive order.
While he warned Monday that his restraint has limits, Trump has signaled that he prefers tightening sanctions to launching an immediate military strike to try to alter Iran's behavior and force political change in Tehran.
"I think Iran, potentially, has a phenomenal future," Trump said of his willingness to negotiate with Tehran. But he insisted that Iranian leaders would have to end their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"I have many friends that are Iranians," he said. "It's very sad what is happening to that country."
He complained that the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, "wasn't properly done." He added that Khamenei has said "he doesn't want nuclear weapons," which Trump called "a great thing to say."
Critics said the new sanctions would have little substantive effect and could further inflame tensions.
"Symbolic politics at its worst," said Robert Malley, president and chief executive of the International Crisis Group and a former senior Barack Obama administration official on the Middle East. "At every level it is illogical, counterproductive or useless."
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the administration would add Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister and its top negotiator on the nuclear deal, to the sanctions list this week.
"For people who say these are just symbolic, that's not the case at all," Mnuchin said Monday. "We've literally locked up tens and tens of billions of dollars."
The inflation rate in Iran has risen to about 50% and many Iranians are dissatisfied with the economy, but authoritarian leaders have historically shown they can withstand stress from sanctions for many years. Some Iranian citizens also blame the U.S. government for the devastation of their economy, and they point to the shortage of critical medicine, even though Trump administration officials say they do not intend to limit humanitarian aid.
International nuclear experts say Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program and has been adhering to the terms of the landmark nuclear agreement that it reached in 2015.
Trump's rollout of sanctions and the effort to end all oil exports, along with an insistence by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Tehran meet 12 expansive demands mostly unrelated to the nuclear program, "set a spark to the escalatory cycle we're seeing today," said Dalia Dassa Kaye, a Middle East expert at Rand Corp., a research group in California.
"The administration argued maximum pressure would bring Iran to the negotiating table, but instead it brought provocative Iranian actions that are not likely to end without Iran getting something concrete on sanctions relief," she said. "Talk about wanting to talk is not likely to be enough."
On Monday afternoon, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told reporters that he had been barred from a closed meeting of the Security Council called by the United States. He also said there was no way Iran and the United States could have a dialogue right now.
"You cannot start a dialogue with someone who is threatening, who is intimidating you," he said.
Meanwhile, Iranian hackers have stepped up their targeting of U.S. public- and private-sector computer networks, according to cybersecurity firms. One group in particular, known as APT33 by the research firm FireEye, is thought to have links to the Iranian government and has carried out cyberattacks in other parts of the world -- though not in the United States -- in addition to intelligence collection, said John Hultquist, FireEye director of intelligence analysis.
"Launching destructive and disruptive cyberattacks is a capability that Iran may use to cause economic damage without significantly escalating the conflict," Hultquist said.
Information for this article was contributed by Edward Wong of The New York Times; by Deb Riechmann, Kevin Freking and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press; and by Erin Cunningham and William Branign of The Washington Post.
Morteza Rahmani Movahed (right), Iran’s ambassador to Japan, said during a news conference in Tokyo on Monday that his country faces economic terrorism that targets the Iranian people as the United States increases sanctions.
A Section on 06/25/2019
Print Headline: Trump adds to Iranian sanctions