Trump administration unveils new Iran sanctions

Trump administration unveils new Iran sanctions
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The Trump administration on Tuesday unveiled a new slate of economic sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions in the region, the day after announcing that it will grudgingly recertify Tehran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement reached under former President Obama.

The U.S. Treasury Department designated 16 entities and individuals for supporting “illicit Iranian actors or transnational criminal activity,” according to a statement.

Some of those targeted had supported the Iranian military or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by developing drones, fast attack boats and other military equipment. Others stole U.S. and western software programs, which were sold to the Iranian government, according to the statement.

The State Department separately designated two organizations involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program.

“This Administration will continue to aggressively target Iran's malign activity, including their ongoing state support of terrorism, ballistic missile program, and human rights abuses," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.  

The sanctions, he said, “send a strong signal that the United States cannot and will not tolerate Iran’s provocative and destabilizing behavior. We will continue to target the IRGC and pressure Iran to cease its ballistic missile program and malign activities in the region.”

The administration is required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Tehran is sticking to the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement — a move that Trump made Monday, his second time since taking office.

But the president has expressed deep ambivalence about the agreement, which he repeatedly vowed to tear up on the campaign trail, and senior officials reportedly had to talk him into Monday’s announcement.

In an hourlong meeting last week, according to The New York Times, Trump spent 55 minutes telling some of his highest-ranking national security advisers that he wanted to abandon the Iran deal. Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster convinced the president to maintain the agreement for now.

The announcement came paired with harsh criticism of Iran’s conduct and the threat of further sanctions.

The deal, struck in 2015, offered sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for certain curbs on its nuclear program. Republicans have long argued that Tehran is abiding only by the strict letter of the deal, not the spirit.

The Trump administration on Monday vowed a new strategy that will “address the totality of Iran’s malign behavior and not narrowly focus” solely on the nuclear accord — including new sanctions aimed at holding Iran responsible for its “misbehavior in the region in a bunch of fronts,” according to one senior administration official who spoke to reporters on Monday night.

The “malign activities” outside the realm of the nuclear agreement include Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and hostility to Israel, the official said.

“The president and the secretary of State judge that these Iranian activities severely undermine the intent of the JCPOA which was to contribute to regional and international peace and security,” the official said.

Officials said that the previous administration took a “narrow approach” that overlooked Iran’s “broader behavior.”

“We are determined not to repeat that mistake and we are approaching all this as part of an integrated strategy to holding Iran accountable for its misdeeds in all respects and trying to contain the threats that Iran presents to our interest and those of our allies and friends in the region.”

The Senate in June passed a bill with sanctions targeting Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, human rights violations and weapons transfers.

- Mallory Shelbourne contributed.