Trump administration tightens Iran sanctions, Teheran hits back

Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran, Iran on Feb 10, 2012.
Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran, Iran on Feb 10, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The Trump administration on Friday (Feb 3) imposed sanctions on 25 individuals and entities, ratcheting up pressure on Iran in what it said were just “initial steps” and said it would no longer turn a “blind eye” to Iran’s hostile actions.

“The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests,” National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said.

“The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over,” Flynn said in a White House statement.

A senior administration official said the latest sanctions were the initial steps in response to Iran’s “provocative behaviour”, suggesting more could follow if Teheran does not curb its ballistic missile programme and continues support in regional proxy conflicts.

The administration was “undertaking a larger strategic review” of how it responds to Iran.

Those affected cannot access the US financial system or deal with US companies and are subject to secondary sanctions, meaning foreign companies and individuals are prohibited from dealing with them or risk being blacklisted by the United States.

The White House said that while the sanctions, the first actions against Iran by the US government since President Donald Trump took office, were a reaction to recent events, they had been under consideration before.

They added that a landmark 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme was not in the best interest of the United States.

Iran denounced the sanctions as illegal and said it would impose legal restrictions on American individuals and entities helping “regional terrorist groups”, state TV quoted a Foreign Ministry statement as saying.

Ahead of the announcement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “We will never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defence”.

The new designations stuck to areas that remain under sanctions even with the 2015 nuclear deal sealed between Iran and world powers in place, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite military body that is powerful in Iranian politics and the economy, and Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

Zarif led Iran’s delegation at the nuclear negotiations in 2015.

Among those affected by the sanctions were what it said was a Lebanon-based network run by the Revolutionary Guards.

The sanctions’ impact will be more symbolic than practical, especially as they do not affect the lifting of broader US and international sanctions that took place under the nuclear deal.

Also, few of the Iranian entities being targeted are likely to have US assets that can be frozen, and US companies, with few exceptions, are barred from doing business with Iran.

Meanwhile, the US moved a Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, close to the Bab al-Mandab Strait off the coast of Yemen to protect waterways from Houthi militia aligned with Iran.

DESIGNATIONS

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Friday expressed understanding over the sanctions, saying Iran’s missile test last Sunday was a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

However, Gabriel warned against conflating Sunday’s test with the nuclear deal. The White House said the sanctions made clear the nuclear deal was not in Washington’s best interest.

The US Treasury, which listed the individuals and entities affected on its website, said the sanctions were “fully consistent” with US commitments under the nuclear deal.

Some of the entities involved are based in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and China.

Among those affected were companies, individuals and brokers the US Treasury said support a trade network run by Iranian businessman Abdollah Asgharzadeh.

Treasury said he supported Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which the United States has said is a subsidiary of an Iranian entity that runs Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

Hasan Dehghan Ebrahimi, a Beirut-based official with the Revolutionary Guard’s Qods Force, which runs its operations abroad, was put under sanctions for acting on behalf of the Qods Force, Treasury said.

Three Lebanese companies involved in waste collection, pharmaceuticals, and construction were also listed under the sanctions for being owned or controlled by Muhammad Abd-al-Amir Farhat, one of Ebrahimi’s employees.

Treasury said he has facilitated millions of dollars in cash transfers to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Two of his employees and a company he manages were also sanctioned. Treasury said Ebrahimi and his employees used a Lebanon-based network to transfer funds, launder money, and conduct business.