Fresh US sanctions on Iran kick in as clock hits midnight
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Fresh US sanctions on Iran kick in as clock hits midnight

Reimposition of economic restrictions as part of Trump’s withdrawal from nuclear deal met with cheers in Jerusalem, jeers in Tehran and Europe

US President Donald Trump makes remarks to the media before a cabinet meeting at the White House on June 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Olivier Douliery)
US President Donald Trump makes remarks to the media before a cabinet meeting at the White House on June 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Olivier Douliery)

New US sanctions on Iran took effect just after midnight in Washington on Tuesday as part of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the international accord meant to limit the Iranian nuclear program.

On Monday, Trump signed an executive order restoring sanctions on Iran, which he said would would put “maximum economic pressure” on the country. He also held out hope for new negotiations between Iran and the United States that would result in another, more wide-ranging, accord.

The new sanctions target Iran’s automotive sector and trade in gold and precious metals. They come ahead of even more biting sanctions set to be introduced on November 5 against the country’s energy and banking sectors.

While cheered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials, the reimposition of US sanctions was bemoaned by the nuclear deal’s European signatories and the EU, who defended the accord and vowed to protect European firms from US economic penalties.

US President Donald J. Trump signs an executive order on Iran Sanctions at Trump National Golf Club, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

In a White House statement announcing the sanctions, Trump repeated his criticisms of the deal, and argued that Iran’s behavior since the pact was implemented has vindicated his long-held position.

“The JCPOA, a horrible, one-sided deal, failed to achieve the fundamental objective of blocking all paths to an Iranian nuclear bomb, and it threw a lifeline of cash to a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence, and chaos,” Trump said.

“Since the deal was reached, Iran’s aggression has only increased. The regime has used the windfall of newly accessible funds it received under the JCPOA to build nuclear-capable missiles, fund terrorism, and fuel conflict across the Middle East and beyond.”

Following Trump’s announced US departure from the deal in May, the White House has, through 17 rounds, sanctioned 38 Iran-related targets.

The objective, the administration has indicated, is to change Iranian behavior.

“Reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions through today’s actions further intensifies pressure on Tehran to change its conduct,” Trump said Monday.

In May, Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal forged under the Obama administration and with five other world powers, a move that set in motion a renewal of sanctions against Iran that had been removed once the landmark accord was implemented in January 2016.

In Israel, the reimposition of US sanctions was lauded as a historic turning point that could ultimately lead to the Islamic Republic’s downfall, with senior officials calling on other countries to follow suit.

“It symbolizes the determination to curb Iran’s regional aggression and its ongoing plans to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” said Netanyahu in a video released Monday, moments after Trump signed new sanctions into law.

Jerusalem’s warm embrace of the US sanctions in Iran stood in stark contrast to the European Union, which said it would move to protect countries that remain in Iran.

“We deeply regret the re-imposition of sanctions by the US, due to the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” the union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany said in a joint statement, using the nuclear deal’s technical name.

European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini delivers her opening address during the ASEAN-European Union Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, August 3, 2018. (Yong Teck Lim/AP)

“The JCPOA is working and delivering on its goal, namely to ensure that the Iranian program remains exclusively peaceful,” the statement went on. “It is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture, crucial for the security of Europe, the region, and the entire world.”

The European Commission vowed to oppose the new US sanctions regime, updating its so-called Blocking Statute that is aimed at “sustaining trade and economic relations between the EU and Iran.”

In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani rejected Trump’s call for renewed negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, saying it was a statement intended only for American audiences and to foment chaos in Iran.

In a televised interview, he said “Negotiations with sanctions doesn’t make sense. They are imposing sanctions on Iranian children, patients and the nation.” He was referring to fears that essential supplies such as medicines would be affected when sanctions return.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani giving an interview on August 6, 2018 (Screen capture: press TV)

He said Iran had “always welcomed negotiations,” but that Washington would first have to demonstrate it can be trusted.

“If you’re an enemy and you stab the other person with a knife and then you say you want negotiations, then the first thing you have to do is remove the knife.”

“How do they show they are trustworthy? By returning to the JCPOA,” he said, using the technical name for the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani fell back on the rhetoric of many of his predecessors by referencing the 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew Iran’s elected prime minister and cemented the shah’s rule.

“I have no pre-conditions” for negotiating with America “if the US government is ready to negotiate about paying compensation to the Iranian nation from 1953 until now,” Rouhani said. “The US owes the Iranian nation for its intervention in Iran.

Two weeks ago, Trump indicated that he was willing to meet with Iran’s leaders at any time and without any preconditions.

“I would certainly meet with Iran if they’re ready to meet,” Trump said during a White House press conference, adding that he was willing to do so with “no preconditions.”

The week before, Trump tweeted at Rouhani that Iran would “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before,” in a dramatic all-caps tweet.

His tweet was ostensibly a response to a speech Rouhani gave the night before in which he threatened that the United States would experience the “mother of all wars” if it entered into an armed confrontation with Iran.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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