President Donald Trump announced new sanctions against Iran on Monday in part to retaliate after the downing of a US drone last week, with the punitive measures set to target Iran's Supreme Leader, military officials and its top diplomat, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump said he signed an executive order imposing "hard hitting" sanctions on Iran that will deny Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his office "and many others" access to financial instruments.
"Today's actions follow a series of aggressive behaviours by the Iranian regime in recent weeks, including shooting down of US drones," Trump said, flanked by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence.
Mnuchin offered no detail on the plan to penalize Zarif, or the impact of sanctioning Iran's top international diplomat who regularly travels abroad – including to the US and its allies – to engage in diplomacy. Sanctions can include a travel ban, as well as financial measures.
Nor did Mnuchin explain how sanctions against Zarif align with the Trump administration's assertion that it is interested in diplomacy with Iran and the President's repeated declarations that he is ready to talk. Trump was asked during an NBC interview aired Sunday if he had conditions for talking with Tehran and said, "not as far as I'm concerned, no preconditions."
Hagar Hajjar Chemali, a former spokesperson for the US mission to the UN, said the move against Zarif is "a message that they're not interested in negotiating anytime soon, because they are in effect sanctioning Iran's chief negotiator. If Iran comes back to the table, the person who's going to be tasked with leading those negotiations is certainly Foreign Minister Zarif."
'War and sanctions'
Even though the International Atomic Energy Agency has found that Iran has complied with the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action, the nuclear deal the US abandoned in 2018, the US has re-imposed all sanctions in place before the deal and added new ones. Those actions have undermined the central concept of the deal – that in exchange for controls on its nuclear program, Iran would see some economic relief.
An adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted on Monday that "we are neither warmongers nor do we deserve sanctions."
"But we consider war and sanctions as two sides of the same coin," said Hesameddin Ashena, the adviser, in the tweet. "America's claim to negotiate without preconditions is unacceptable while threats and sanctions continue. They must give us more than JCPOA if they demand for something more than this agreement."
While Trump called the sanctions a "strong and proportionate response," neither he nor Mnuchin would offer exact details about what the retaliation was for. Trump said, "this was something that was going to happen anyway."
The lack of clarity might be a result of Trump's moves to downplay the impact of the drone strike, which he called "a new wrinkle" shortly after it happened. After Trump halted plans for a military strike against Iran in retaliation for the attack on the drone, Trump said he found it hard to believe it had been an "intentional" act.
Mnuchin and the Treasury Department also announced sanctions against eight senior commanders of Navy, Aerospace, and Ground Forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the elite military unit with deep political influence and interests in wide parts.
"These commanders sit atop a bureaucracy that supervises the IRGC's malicious regional activities, including its provocative ballistic missile program, harassment and sabotage of commercial vessels in international waters, and its destabilizing presence in Syria," a Treasury statement said.