US issues Iran sanctions to enforce UN action ignored by international community

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The Trump administration announced an executive order and new unilateral sanctions against Iran on Monday aimed at enforcing United Nations sanctions that most members of the international body are dismissing as illegitimate.

“My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran,” President Trump said in a statement. “The United States will not allow the Iranian regime to further advance capabilities to directly threaten and terrorize the rest of the world.”  

The sanctions put in place a new arms embargo on Iran to replace a U.N. ban set to expire in October. Administration officials say it is an indefinite ban on weapons sales and allows for sanctions on any international companies or individuals that seek to violate the embargo. 

“The president’s executive order announced today gives us a new and powerful tool to enforce the U.N. arms embargo, and hold those who seek to evade U.N. sanctions accountable,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a press conference.  

The administration’s sanction package also targeted dozens of entities and individuals connected to Iran’s nuclear weapons programs including s Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, Iran’s Defense Industries Organization and its director, Mehrdad Akhlaghi-Ketabchi, and individuals and entities associated with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

The U.S. also announced sanctions on Nicolás Maduro, the embattled leader of Venezuela, accusing him of flouting the U.N. arms embargo over the past two years. 

“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,” Pompeo said.

The Trump administration is ramping up its economic pressure campaign against Tehran with just weeks to go before the presidential election, potentially risking an escalation in the final stretch of the race.

Still, regional experts expect Iran will hold off on a response to the sanctions that could provoke the United States and international community before the election as it hopes Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden defeats Trump and returns to the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations via videoconference at the same time as the Trump administration’s news conference, dismissed Monday’s sanctions as “nothing new.”

“I don’t think it will have any more significant impact on Iran,” Zarif added. “The United States has exerted all the pressure it could on Iran. It had hoped that these sanctions will bring our population to their knees. It didn’t.”

Asked about any further response to the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani earlier this year, Zarif did not rule anything out.

“President Trump ordered the assassination of a national hero for Iran and a hero for the region,” Zarif said. “So the book is not closed. I’m not in the business of making threats, but the book is not closed.”

At the news conference, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said U.S. forces in the Middle East are maintaining a state of high alert in anticipation of any retaliatory action that Iran or Iran-backed forces may take against American troops.

“We feel very confident with regard to our readiness and preparedness to deal with anything that might happen in the region,” he said.

Monday’s action comes after the Trump administration insisted it triggered a snapback of U.N. sanctions that were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and several world powers.

In August, Pompeo invoked the process to snap back sanctions after the U.N. Security Council soundly rejected a U.S. resolution to extend the ban on conventional weapons sales to and from Iran. Restoring the pre-nuclear deal sanctions would extend the arms embargo.

On Saturday, the Trump administration said the U.N. sanctions came back into force. But every member of the 15-member Security Council except for the Dominican Republic rejected the U.S. authority to reimpose sanctions since Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom said in a statement this weekend that the U.S. move “is incapable of having legal effect.”

“It flows from this that any decisions and actions which would be taken based on this procedure or on its possible outcome would also be incapable of having any legal effect,” the statement added.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borell similarly said Sunday that the United States “cannot initiate the process of reinstating U.N. sanctions under the U.N. Security Council resolution 2231. Consequently, sanctions lifting commitments under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] continue to apply.”

On Monday, Pompeo dismissed the international rejection, saying “the country that’s isolated today is not the United States, but rather Iran.”

Pompeo also said he expects “every member state” of the U.N. to “import” the sanctions. 

“That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany. We will have every expectation that those nations enforce these sanctions,” he said. 

Tags Donald Trump Iran Joe Biden Mark Esper Mike Pompeo Sanctions against Iran United Nations
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