The United States slapped additional sanctions on Iran on Monday after the Trump administration’s disputed unilateral weekend declaration that all United Nations penalties eased under the 2015 nuclear deal had been restored.
The announcement came in defiance of nearly all UN members, including US allies in Europe, who have rejected US legal standing to impose the international sanctions. It set the stage for an ugly showdown at the annual UN General Assembly this week and also came as President Donald Trump seeks to portray himself as a champion for Middle East stability ahead of November’s presidential election.
In addition to his actions against Iran, Trump just last week witnessed the signing of agreements normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, both of which reflect increased regional concerns about Iran. Similar US-brokered deals between Israel and Arab states are expected in the coming days and weeks.
“The United States has now restored UN sanctions on Iran,” Trump said in a statement issued shortly after he signed an executive order spelling out how the US will enforce the “snapback” of the sanctions. “My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran.”
The sanctions include freezes on any assets those targeted may have in US jurisdictions, bar Americans from doing business with them and, perhaps most importantly, open up foreign governments, companies and individuals to US penalties if they engage in transactions with them.
Speaking to reporters with fellow Cabinet secretaries at the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the administration was hitting more than two dozen Iranian individuals and institutions with penalties. “No matter who you are if you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran you risk sanctions,” he said.
However, nearly all of the targets identified on Monday — including the Iranian defense ministry, its procurement arm, Iran’s atomic energy agency, several Iranian scientists and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro — were already subject to US sanctions that the administration had re-imposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.
Trump’s executive order mainly affects Iranian and foreign entities involved in conventional weapons and ballistic missile activity. A UN arms embargo on Iran is to expire in October under the terms of the nuclear deal, but Pompeo and others insist the snapback has rescinded its termination.
Accompanied by Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Pompeo said the US was not acting alone but on behalf of the rest of the world which is refusing to confront the Iranian threat.
“The country that’s isolated today is not the United States but rather Iran,” Pompeo said. “By these actions we have made very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce these sanctions.”
Craft, the UN ambassador who has seen her counterparts one-by-one adamantly reject the administration’s position, said the US would not back down in the face of global opposition.
“What makes America unique is that we stand up for what is right,” she said. “As we have in the past, we will stand alone to protect peace and security at all times. We don’t need a cheering section to validate our moral compass.”
In a letter to the president of the Security Council, Craft said the US move meant that outright bans on Iranian uranium enrichment, re-processing and heavy water-related programs are once again in place as is a bar on any activity involving nuclear capable ballistic missiles. She said the US expected UN member states to also observe and enforce asset freezes and travel bans on dozens of Iranian officials that had been eased as a result of the nuclear deal.
The administration declared on Saturday that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored because Tehran is violating parts of the nuclear deal in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
But few UN member states believe the US has the legal standing to restore the sanctions because Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. The US argues it retains the right to do so as an original participant in the deal and a member of the council.
The remaining world powers in the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have been struggling to offset the sanctions that the US re-imposed on Iran after the Trump administration left the pact, which the president said was one-sided in favor of Tehran and frequently called the worst deal ever negotiated.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, said earlier Monday there is still a broad agreement among the international community that the nuclear pact should be preserved. At a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Salehi said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, has been “caught in a quasi-stalemate situation” since Trump pulled out.
While insisting it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, Iran has been steadily breaking restrictions outlined in the deal on the amount of uranium it can enrich, the purity it can enrich it to, and other limitations. At the same time, Iran has far less enriched uranium and lower-purity uranium than it had before signing the deal, and it has continued to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities.
Trump’s opponent in November, former Vice President Joe Biden, has signaled that he would rejoin the deal if he’s elected but also said he wants to negotiate tougher terms and expand the agreement’s mandate to include non-nuclear matters.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said Monday that Tehran was open to talks in general but only if it was compensated for sanctions that have already been reimposed by the US. He also said he would not renegotiate the terms of the 2015 deal, which was a signature foreign policy achievement of former President Barack Obama.
“It is up to the United States to prove to the rest of the JCPOA participants, particularly to Iran, that it’s going to act responsibly, that it’s not going to make demands outside the scope of the JCPOA, and it’s going to basically stop causing damage to Iran,” Zarif said at an online event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.