US imposes sanctions on Iran's defence ministry, Venezuelan President Maduro

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran, on Sept 21, 2020.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran, on Sept 21, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States on Monday (Sept 21) slapped new sanctions on the Iranian defence ministry and others involved in Iran's nuclear and weapons program to support its assertion that all UN sanctions against Teheran are now restored, a move disputed by key European allies as well as US adversaries such as Russia and China.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, flanked by President Donald Trump's top national security aides, also told reporters the United States put new sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has deepened ties between Caracas and Teheran.

The latest sanctions include a new executive order signed by Trump targeting those who buy or sell Iran conventional arms that was previously reported by Reuters.

Acting under that order, the United States said it had imposed penalties on Iran's Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics, Iran's Defence Industries Organisation and its Director, Mehrdad Akhlaghi-Ketabchi.

The impetus behind the US action is the impending expiry of a UN arms embargo on Iran and a desire to warn foreign actors - US entities are already barred from such trade - that if they buy or sell arms to Iran they will face US sanctions.

Under the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran struck with six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - the UN conventional arms embargo is to set to expire on Oct 18, shortly before the Nov 3 US election.

"No matter who you are, if you violate the UN arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions," Pompeo told a news conference with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Defence Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Robert O'Brien, the national security adviser.

The United States says it has triggered a "snap back," or resumption, of virtually all UN sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, to come into effect at 8pm on Saturday (0000 GMT Sunday).

Other parties to the nuclear deal and most UN Security Council members have said they do not believe the United States has the right to reimpose the UN sanctions and that the US move has no legal effect.

Despite this opposition, Pompeo said the United States was not isolated.

"The country that's isolated today is not the United States but rather Iran," he said.

The United States also targeted six individuals and three entities associated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) under a separate executive order and the US Commerce Department added five individuals associated with the AEOI to its "Entity List," imposing export control restrictions on them.

The Treasury Department also sanctioned three individuals and four entities associated with Iran's liquid propellant ballistic missile organisation, the State Department said.

The Trump administration has previously imposed sanctions on Maduro, Venezuela's socialist leader, a rare action against a foreign head of state, accusing him of undermining democracy in the South American country.

Washington and dozens of other countries back opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president. But US officials have said privately that Maduro's continued grip on power - backed by the military as well as Russia, China, Cuba and Iran - has been a source of frustration for Trump.

"For nearly two years, corrupt officials in Tehran have worked with the illegitimate regime in Venezuela to flout the UN arms embargo," Pompeo said, providing no specifics.