Trump Administration Ratchets Up Pressure on Iran

New round of sanctions takes effect, with more targeting the oil industry on the way in November

Image Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

As the United States moves to slap new sanctions on Iran, President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday offered a rebuttal to critics who contend they will have no impact — they already have.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity pointed to a number of economic indicators that have tanked in Iran since Trump announced three months ago that the United States would withdraw from the nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor.

One official said those economic indicators refute arguments that the United States would have a limited impact on Iran without the other countries that had sanctioned the rogue regime prior to the Iran nuclear deal.

“Three months out, we have a very different picture in front of us,” an official said. “The rial [Iran’s currency] is tanking. Unemployment in Iran is rising. And there are widespread protests over social issues, and labor unrest.”

The pain is about to get a whole lot worse.

The administration is reimposing sanctions from five separate executive orders that the 2015 nuclear deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — had revoked or amended.

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Beginning on Tuesday just after midnight, sanctions will return against the Iranian government’s purchase of U.S. currency; Iran’s trade in gold and precious medals; the sale of graphite and metals, aluminum, steel, coal and software; certain transactions involving the rial; certain transactions involving the issuance of Iranian debt; and Iran’s automotive sector.

Importation into the United States of Iranian food and carpets — and transactions involving the purchase of equipment for Iran’s commercial aircraft — also will be prohibited.

As a candidate, Trump regularly criticized the nuclear deal. As president, he initially kept the deal in place but reversed course in May, days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailed the great lengths to which Iran had gone to hide its earlier nuclear ambitions.

Although U.S. authorities have not been able to identify evidence that Iran has violated the terms of the deal, the officials who briefed reporters on Monday pointed to Iran’s wide-ranging nefarious activities, such as promoting international terrorism and undermining American allies in the Middle East.

Barack Obama’s decision to leave those issues out of the nuclear deal are part of what made it fatally flawed, Trump advisers contend.

“Looking at the region from Yemen to Syria to Gaza, the Iranian regime is using the resources they had gotten from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to spread human misery across the region instead of investing it in their people at home.”

“Looking at the region from Yemen to Syria to Gaza, the Iranian regime is using the resources they had gotten from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to spread human misery across the region instead of investing it in their people at home,” the official said. “We can have no further illusions about their intent.”

The official said a fighter for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization in Lebanon can earn twice as much money as a firefighter in the capital of Iranian capital Tehran. As a result, she said, fires burn unchecked throughout the city.

After Monday, the next round of sanctions will hit on November 4 after a 90-day wind-down period. Those penalties will target Iran’s oil sector, a vital source of foreign currency. Additional sanctions will hit Iran’s central bank; its port, shipping and shipbuilding industries; and insurance and financial messaging services.

“This will have an exponential effect on Iran’s already fragile economy,” an adviser said.

Another senior official noted that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has issued 17 rounds of sanctions against 145 Iran-related people — including six rounds just since Trump announced in May that the United States would withdraw from the nuclear pact.

The official repeated Trump’s offer to meet with Iran’s leaders to negotiate a new deal that addresses all the points of dispute in the relationship.

“The Iranian people should not suffer because of their regime’s hegemonic, regional ambitions.”

“The Iranian people should not suffer because of their regime’s hegemonic, regional ambitions,” he said.

Added another senior administration official: “As Iran expends enormous resources on its foreign adventurism, its people are becoming increasingly frustrated. And we are seeing this frustration expressed in protests across the country.”

The United States faces opposition from its allies, however, and also from adversaries such as Russia and China.

The European Union announced it would update its so-called Blocking Statute, which allows businesses to recover damages from U.S. sanctions if they continue doing business with Iran. It also forbids people and companies — with limited exceptions — from complying with those sanctions.

In a joint statement issued Monday, the EU and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain vowed to continue working to provide Iran with effective financial channels and to facilitate its export of oil and gas.

Related: U.S. Will Pull Out of ‘Great Embarrassment’ That Is Iran Deal

“We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the U.S.,” statement reads.

But a Trump administration official said that almost 100 international firms already have announced that they will stop doing business with Iran, particularly in the energy and finance sectors. He said officials from the Treasury and State departments have traveled to 20 countries to coordinate with other governments.

Administration officials, though, denied they are calling for regime change in Iran. One official said the United States stands with the demonstrators in Iran who are seeking new policies from their government.

“What we’re noticing is that so many of the things that the protesters are demanding are very similar to the things that United States and other nations in the world are demanding,” he said.

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