US imposes new sanctions on Iran: Update

  • Market: Crude oil
  • 06/24/19

Adds details throughout

The US administration imposed new sanctions on Iran today after a week of heightened tension between the two countries that included the downing of a US military drone.

The new restrictions target the ability of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the office that administers an economic endowment on his behalf to access accounts in financial institutions with ties to the US. The Treasury Department separately added eight senior commanders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to its sanctions list, including naval commanders who are overseeing operations in the strait of Hormuz.

US president Donald Trump cast the sanctions as a response to the downing of the drone by the Iranian military forces on 20 June. But he added that "this was something that was going to happen anyway."

US advocates of tough policy on Iran have long called for imposing sanctions on Khamenei's foundation, which they say has extensive economic holdings in Iran. But US sanctions in effect since last year already prohibit Iranian government officials and agencies from accessing the US financial system.

Trump said last week he called off a planned military strike against Iran after concluding that the likely casualties would have been disproportionate to the shooting of an unmanned US drone. But he and US officials since then have suggested that the US may respond differently if in response to attacks against US civilian and military personnel in the Middle East.

Trump, who has been urged by US lawmakers from both parties to have a moderate response and to engage in diplomacy with Iran, said that he aims to ensure Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. Tehran denies having ever pursued nuclear weapons.

Trump noted today that Khamenei had said Iran has no plans to pursue a nuclear weapon. "So, if that is the case, we can do something very quickly."

The US has previously pushed for a broader set of commitments from Iran as a condition of the removal of economic sanctions. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo issued a 12-point ultimatum last year demanding major changes to Tehran's foreign and domestic policies.

Before starting a visit to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Pompeo yesterday said the US was prepared to negotiate with Iran "with no preconditions."

But Pompeo also accused his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, of spreading "disinformation" and denied that the administration renewed the offer of talks to Tehran through Oman as a condition for calling off the military strikes last week. The Treasury Department is expected to add Zarif to the US sanctions list later this week.

Today's decision to impose additional sanctions is "another indication of the US aggression toward Iran and its leaders," Iran's ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said. "How can we start dialog with someone whose primary preoccupation is to place more sanctions on Iran?"

A former US official who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal said that tightening of sanctions and the apparent contradictions in statements by Trump and his officials on what the US expects from Tehran complicate potential diplomatic efforts.

"There is no clear definition of what you are trying to achieve and how you are trying to achieve it," former undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman said.

Sherman, who is among the few US foreign policy professionals who maintains contacts with senior Iranian diplomats, said that Tehran's release from custody of a US permanent resident earlier this month may have been meant as a conciliatory gesture.

"If you were an astute administration, you might take up on that and say they have taken a first step," Sherman said. Releasing US citizens and permanent residents in Tehran's custody is among the 12 points in Pompeo's ultimatum.

A decision to extend oil waivers for Iranian crude buyers may have provided an opening for talks a while ago but "with this escalation, it is very tough and certainly the Iranian position is more hardened," Sherman said. "The more this escalates, the more the administration will have to put on the table."

Iran has announced that it will breach the uranium enrichment limits imposed under the nuclear deal as soon as this week and will selectively stop compliance in other areas after 8 July.

But Tehran continues to hold consultations with its European partners over the nuclear deal compliance, Ravanchi said. Iran and the nuclear deal participants — China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK — will meet in Vienna on 28 June to discuss US sanctions on Iran and Tehran's threat to stop compliance.


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