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US looking into upping sanctions on Iran, Treasury head says

Steve Mnuchin tells lawmakers administration is reviewing licenses given to airplane manufacturers to sell to Islamic Republic

Treasury head Steve Mnuchin testifies during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing concerning the Trump administration's fiscal year 2018 budget proposals, on Capitol Hill, May 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
Treasury head Steve Mnuchin testifies during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing concerning the Trump administration's fiscal year 2018 budget proposals, on Capitol Hill, May 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

US Treasury chief Steve Mnuchin said the Trump administration was exploring ways to increase financial pressure on Iran, Syria and North Korea Thursday, days after President Donald Trump launched a blistering verbal offensive against Tehran during a trip to the Middle East.

Mnuchin told the House Ways and Means Committee that the administration was looking into revoking licenses for aircraft manufacturers to sell parts and planes to Iran, which had been a key component of sanctions relief under the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We will use everything within our power to put additional sanctions on Iran, Syria and North Korea to protect American lives,” Mnuchin said, according to Reuters. “I can assure you that’s a big focus of mine and I discuss it with the president.”

Mnuchin also praised sanctions as having been an important tool in bringing Iran to the negotiating table. While Trump has called the nuclear deal a disaster, his administration has not moved to scrap it.

However last month Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration has undertaken a full review of the agreement to evaluate whether continued sanctions relief is in the national interest. Tillerson noted that Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism and that Trump had ordered the review with that in mind.

Trump has repeatedly bashed Iran during speeches over the last week, accusing it of “reckless pursuit of conflict and terror,” in Saudi Arabia, and vowing to keep it from getting a nuclear weapon while visiting Israel.

“The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorists and militias,” he told Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

In September, Washington granted permission to Boeing and the European consortium Airbus to sell billions of dollars’ worth of aircraft to Iran. Airbus needed US approval because at least 10 percent of its planes’ components are of American origin.

An Airbus A321 airliner arrives at the Mehrabad international airport during the delivery of the first batch of planes to the Iranian state airline Iran Air in the  capital Tehran on Jaunary 12, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Atta Kenare)
An Airbus A321 airliner arrives at the Mehrabad international airport during the delivery of the first batch of planes to the Iranian state airline Iran Air in the capital Tehran on Jaunary 12, 2017. (AFP Photo/ Atta Kenare)

After the atomic accord, Boeing struck a December deal with Iran Air, the country’s flag carrier, for 80 passenger planes worth $16.6 billion. In April, it signed a $3 billion deal with Iran’s Aseman Airlines to supply 30 planes.

In January, Iran Air signed agreements to buy 118 planes from Airbus, estimated to be worth some 22.8 billion euros ($25 billion). Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan, a deputy transportation minister, later said Iran would cut the number of Airbus planes to 112.

Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which limits its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some international sanctions, specifically allowed for the purchase of aircraft and parts.

The license approval cleared the way for the two plane manufacturers to begin accessing one of the last untapped aviation markets in the world, home to 80 million people and an aging fleet.

However, Western analysts are skeptical that there is demand for so many jets or available financing for deals worth billions of dollars.

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