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US Imposes Sweeping New Sanctions on Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference to announce the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran, Sept. 21, 2020, in Washington.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference to announce the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran, Sept. 21, 2020, in Washington.

The United States is imposing sweeping new sanctions on Iran to curb Tehran's nuclear, missile, and conventional arms threats after Washington asserted the United Nations arms embargo on Iran was reimposed indefinitely late Saturday.

White House National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is imposing new sanctions and export control measures on 27 entities and individuals connected to Iran's nuclear weapons program.

A White House executive order lays out plans to block the property of individuals involved in transferring arms materials and military equipment to and from Iran. The State Department and Treasury Department also outline how foreign individuals and businesses will be penalized for violations.

Iran's Defense Industries Organization (DIO) and its director, Mehrdad Akhlaghi-Ketabchi, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro are among those being sanctioned.

"For nearly two years, corrupt officials in Tehran have worked with the illegitimate regime in Venezuela to flout the U.N. arms embargo. Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide. No matter who you are, if you violate the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, alongside other top U.S. officials from Trump's national security team, during a Monday press briefing at the State Department.

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said, "Any financial institutions that knowingly facilitate a significant transaction for these individuals or entities could be subject to U.S. sanctions."

Late Saturday, the U.S. asserted that all U.N. sanctions eased or lifted by the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are reimposed and must be enforced by U.N. member states.

But U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations will not take any action, "pending clarification by the Security Council" on whether sanctions that have been lifted should be reimposed.

China and Russia have unyieldingly rejected the U.S. position, while Britain, France and Germany — the so-called E3 — said the U.S. announcement did not have legal effect.

U.S. officials said individuals and companies, including European banks that assist Iran in the violation of these wide U.N. sanctions, will be punished.

"If a European bank were to finance an arms sale to Iran or by Iran, absolutely, it would be sanctioned," U.S. special envoy for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams told reporters during a Monday phone briefing.

"I won't get into detail about the timelines, but that's clearly the direction in which Iran wishes to move," said Abrams when asked about a Reuters report citing U.S. officials saying Iran could have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year. The report also said Tehran has resumed long-range missile cooperation with nuclear-armed North Korea.

Abrams told reporters the U.S. is "very concerned" about Iran's cooperation with North Korea and that Washington will watch "very carefully and doing what we can to prevent it."

The latest punitive steps to sanction Iran come after the U.S. brokered deals for the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel, seen as efforts to restrain Iran's regional influence.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded Saturday, hours before the U.S. announced its plans to reimpose snapback sanctions against Tehran.

"The Americans, as a rule, act as a bully and impose sanctions. … The world community should decide how to act towards bullying," Zarif told Iranian state television.

U.S. officials have been warning that an Iran free from restrictions would lead to further regional destabilization, intensified conflicts and a regional arms race.

Washington said if U.N. member states fail to fulfill obligations to implement the restored sanctions, the U.S. is prepared to "impose consequences for those failures" and ensure that Iran does not engage in enrichment and reprocessing-related activities, as well as ballistic missile testing.

The U.S. tried but failed on Aug. 14 to extend an expiring arms embargo against Iran through a resolution at the United Nations Security Council.

The embargo against the sale or transfer to or from Iran of conventional weapons is set to expire Oct. 18 under the 2015 nuclear deal.

With the extension blocked, Washington saw triggering a snapback of U.N. sanctions under Resolution 2231 as the only path for restoring the arms embargo.

Under the JCPOA, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany, agreed with Iran to gradually lift international sanctions in return for limits on Tehran's nuclear activities, to prevent it from making a nuclear bomb. It also reopened Iran's markets to many foreign investors.

The United States withdrew from the deal in May 2018, reimposing unilateral sanctions on Iran. Tehran in turn resumed some of its nuclear activities. In July 2019, it breached the deal by exceeding limits on both uranium enrichment and stockpile levels. Iran denies that its nuclear activities are for military purposes.

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