Iran slams ‘bullying,’ vows to defy sanctions
The Trump administration last week tightened the noose on Iran, restoring sweeping economic and financial sanctions aimed at forcing the Islamic regime to give up nuclear ambitions and support of terrorism.
The sanctions targeting Iran’s banking, energy and transportation industries fulfilled a major promise for President Trump after his decision in May to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and other world powers.
While Tehran vowed to defy the sanctions and other countries scrambled to preserve the nuclear pact, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the clampdown, which was the largest single-day action targeting the regime, was just the start of the economic pain for Iran.
“The maximum pressure exerted by the United States is only going to mount from here,” said Mr. Mnuchin.
Iran fought back, greeting the renewed U.S. sanctions with air defense drills and defiant rhetoric.
“We are in the economic war situation. We are confronting a bullying enemy. We have to stand to win,” said President Hassan Rouhani.
He vowed to keep selling the oil that is the country’s economic lifeblood.
Mr. Trump and other critics of the nuclear deal say the accord was poorly negotiated and hasn’t stopped Iran’s aggressive military moves, its aggressive moves toward Israel and its support for radical proxies across the Middle East. Supporters say U.N. inspectors have repeatedly said Iran has abided by its promises under the agreement and that undermining the deal will leave Iran free to resume its nuclear programs.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that the Trump administration had approved temporary waivers for eight major customers of Iranian oil — China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — although all are expected to cut their Iranian purchases and eventually cut off all ties.
Mr. Trump told reporters that he granted the waivers to prevent a major shock to global energy markets.
“We have the toughest sanctions ever imposed. But on oil, we want to go a little bit slower because I don’t want to drive the oil prices in the world — this has nothing to do with Iran,” said Mr. Trump. “I could get the Iran oil down to zero immediately, but it would cause a shock to the market.”
Some Iran hawks in Congress said the administration unwisely pulled its punches in agreeing to the exceptions. Mr. Pompeo countered that Iran’s official oil exports have already been cut by more than 1 million barrels of crude per day, costing the country $2.5 billion in revenue.
“The Iranian regime has a choice,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters while standing alongside Mr. Mnuchin. “It can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble.”
Getting it right
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and frequent critic of Mr. Trump, said the president got it right this time and that the increased pressure is the only way to get better terms from Iran.
“The Trump administration deserves credit for reimposing sanctions and dramatically reducing Iran’s oil exports and revenues,” said Mr. Corker, who also opposed the 2015 deal with Iran. “I support the administration in its pursuit of a better Iran deal — one without the sunset provisions that ultimately would have enabled Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability — and believe that imposing maximal economic pressure on Iran is vital for getting Iran back to the table.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, agreed that Iran is a rogue regime but said Mr. Trump’s go-it-alone foreign policy is undermining national security and pitting the U.S. against not only Russia and China, but also key Western European allies who have vowed to find ways to work around Mr. Trump’s sanctions.
“It is a serious and self-inflicted injury to America’s global leadership and our ability to negotiate durable agreements with our allies and adversaries,” he said. “The downside risks to this policy are manifold — it could cause Iran to restart its nuclear enrichment efforts, bringing us closer to a military confrontation.”
According to the administration, the restored sanctions hit list includes:
50 Iranian banks and their foreign and domestic subsidiaries.
More than 400 targets, including over 200 people and vessels, in Iran’s shipping and energy sectors.
Iran Air and more than 65 of the airline’s aircraft.
Nearly 250 people and associated property that are being reinstated on a U.S. financial blacklist.
The moves end all economic benefits that the U.S. gave Tehran in the nuclear deal, officially titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The plan, which Mr. Trump called the worst agreement ever negotiated, did not affect the regime’s proliferation of ballistic missiles and widespread support of terrorism. The White House wants to curb those behaviors and secure a more permanent end to Iran’s nuclear weapons development.
Iran has experience evading international sanctions, including the global isolation campaign put together by the Obama administration in the years before the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. This time, Iran doesn’t face a united front because Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. from the sixnation agreement with Iran unilaterally. The other parties to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — all say they will stick with it, and Russian President Vladimir Putin dispatched a top aide to Tehran last week to restate the Kremlin’s willingness to do business with Iran.
Administration officials also stressed that the sanctions target the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people, and the goal of the sanctions is not regime change. Mr. Pompeo this summer listed a dozen points where Washington wants Iranian behavior to change before the U.S. lifts the sanctions.
Before the sanctions were reinstated, Iran was already in the grip of an economic crisis, in part because of previous U.S. pressure.
Its national currency, the rial, now trades at 150,000 to the U.S. dollar. It traded at about 40,500 a year ago. The economic chaos sparked mass anti-government protests at the end of last year that resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and the deaths of at least 25 people. Sporadic demonstrations continue.
The Trump administration has made accommodations to allow some humanitarian trade to continue with Iran.
The Treasury’s office of foreign assets control said it will maintain humanitarian authorizations and exceptions that allow for the sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine and medical devices to Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left), with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, said, “The Iranian regime has a choice. It can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble.”