President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order for new “hard hitting” sanctions on Iran, after reportedly canceling a military strike on Iranian targets last week.
The new sanctions will prevent Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his office, and perhaps those in his inner circle “access to key financial resources and support,” said Trump, prior to signing the order in the Oval Office on Monday.
“We would love to be able to negotiate a new deal with Iran, but if they don’t want to, that’s fine too,” said the president, holding up the order he had just signed. He said that the new sanctions were “going to happen anyway.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held a press conference immediately following the signing of the new executive order, announcing specific actions against individuals he said were “responsible for recent activities,” including three senior leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which the United States designated as a terrorist organization earlier this year.
Mnuchin also said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will be designated for sanctions later this week.
“We are designating people who we believe were responsible for the chain of command whether they knew it or not,” said Mnuchin. “These sanctions have been very effective in cutting off funds,” he added, rejecting the charge that they are symbolic.
Mnuchin said he had “not consulted on these specific sanctions” with U.S. allies.
Iran, meanwhile, had already shrugged off the threat of new sanctions.
“Are there really any sanctions left that the United States has not imposed on our country recently or in the past 40 years?” said Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry at a press conference before Trump’s announcement on Monday.
He added that it’s unclear what the United States wants to target at this point.
Last May, Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), which saw the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany offer sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for the country curbing nuclear enrichment activities tied to its energy program. (Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program.)
Trump violated the JCPOA, claiming that it should cover a whole host of other issues — everything from Iran’s ballistic missile program to its participation in the Syrian war.
The U.S. State Department then issued 12 demands it said Iran had to meet before the sanctions were lifted — demands Iran could only essentially meet if it changed its entire foreign policy, and underwent regime change.
As of now, Iran has not changed its policies, and has not responded to the tightening of the screws.
The Washington Post over the weekend reported that Trump also ordered cyber attacks targeting Iran’s missile systems. Iranian media reported that the attacks had failed.
These developments come following an uneasy few weeks in already tense relations between Washington and Tehran.
Following an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13 — for which the U.S. swiftly blamed Iran — Trump ordered 1,000 additional U.S. troops to the region, having already sent a U.S. carrier and bombers.
Last week, Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone it said was flying in its airspace (the U.S. claims it was in international airspace). That led to an alleged order of military strikes on Iran, which Trump claims to have cancelled some 10 minutes before execution.
Members of the Trump administration continue to fly around the Middle East, as they have been in recent months, hoping to galvanize support against Iran.
National Security Advisor John Bolton was in Israel over the weekend. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the Middle East discussing Iran with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Gulf Arab countries that the U.S. sees as allies in its quest to challenge Iran. The president’s special envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, has traveled to Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia during the past week.
Trump has renewed his offer to negotiate with Iran. On Monday, he told reporters that Iran could reach a new deal with the United States “and very quickly,” although he has not said that he is willing to lift sanctions off Iran in advance of doing so.
This is a sticking point for Iran, which has said it would only negotiate with the United States if it lifts the sanctions — which include oil and banking sanctions that have gutted the Iranian economy.
Hesameddin Ashena, adviser to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, tweeted earlier Monday that in order to resume negotiations with the Trump administration, Iran might want more than just sanctions relief.
“If they want something beyond the JCPOA, they should offer something beyond the JCPOA; with international guarantees,” he wrote.
Ashena also tweeted a terse response to Bolton’s statement on Sunday, in which he said that Iran should not “mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness.”
Ashena wrote, “For all the caution and self-restraint we have shown, it is now your turn. Practice until you learn.”