US marks anniversary of Iran hostage crisis with new sanctions, reward for missing American

US marks anniversary of Iran hostage crisis with new sanctions, reward for missing American
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The Trump administration announced new sanctions Monday on top aides to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as a multimillion-dollar reward for information on the whereabouts of a former FBI agent missing for 12 years.

The announcements were timed to mark the 40th anniversary of the start of the Iran hostage crisis, when 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days.

“This anniversary is an excellent opportunity for the Iranian regime to renounce the current practice of hostage taking and immediately and unconditionally release all unjustly detained Americans on Iranian soil in a sign that they are truly ready to rejoin the international community,” a senior administration official said Monday.

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“The designations today of the Supreme Leader’s inner circle is an extremely important demonstration of our recognition that the Iranian regime is completely unchanged from 40 years ago,” the official added.

U.S.-Iran tensions have been running high since President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE withdrew from the nuclear deal between Tehran and other world powers in 2018 and began levying ever stricter sanctions.

The tension reached a fever pitch earlier this year as the United States blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf region, as well as an attack on Saudi oil fields in September. In response, the United States has deployed thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia.

Iran, meanwhile, has breached uranium stockpile and enrichment limits from the nuclear deal. On Monday, Iranian officials doubled the number of advanced centrifuges they are operating.

The sanctions announced Monday by the Trump administration target Iran’s armed forces general staff and nine individuals who were appointed by or have worked on behalf of Khamenei.

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"Today the Treasury Department is targeting the unelected officials who surround Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and implement his destabilizing policies," Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week Mnuchin: White House has no intention for a shutdown MORE said in a statement. "These individuals are linked to a wide range of malign behaviors by the regime, including bombings of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in 1994, as well as torture, extrajudicial killings, and repression of civilians. This action further constricts the Supreme Leader’s ability to execute his agenda of terror and oppression."

The targeted individuals include Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran’s Judiciary; Mojtaba Khamenei, Khamenei's second son; Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, Khamenei's chief of staff; and Vahid Haghanian, who Treasury said “has been referred to as the Supreme Leader’s right hand.” 

Other targeted individuals are Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Khamenei; Gholam-Ali Hadad-Adel, Mojtaba Khamenei’s father-in-law and an adviser to Khamenei; Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan; Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff for the armed forces; and IRGC commander Gholam Ali Rashid.

The sanctions block any U.S. property or interests those people might hold and prohibit anyone in the United States from dealing with them.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program announced a new reward of $20 million for credible information leading to the safe return of Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in 2007 while on a CIA-contracted mission in Iran.

The United States believes the Iranian government was involved in his disappearance, though Iran denies the charge.

“Bob Levinson has been away from his family and loved ones for nearly 13 years, and we are determined the reunite them,” a senior administration official said in announcing the reward.