The Treasury Department placed new sanctions on Iran today, the first move by the Trump administration in response to a ballistic missile test that led the White House to announce it was putting Iran “on notice.”
The sanctions were imposed on several Iranian officials and entities involved in procurement of material for the missile testing, which the administration said is not part of the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
“Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” said John Smith, acting director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. “Today’s action is part of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA. We will continue to actively apply all available tools, including financial sanctions, to address this behavior.”
During the campaign, President Donald Trump repeatedly slammed the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.
He has said the Obama administration turned a blind eye toward Tehran’s continued ballistics missile tests, so as not to derail an agreement that was an important part of Obama’s legacy. Iran has insisted it is not violating the nuclear agreement by conducting tests of missiles that it claims are purely for defensive purposes and not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
The United States and Iran traded threats Thursday as both nations sought new footing in a power struggle that could jeopardize the landmark international nuclear accord that Trump has called “the worst deal ever negotiated.”
When asked whether his administration’s tough new posture could mean a military strike, Trump answered, “Nothing’s off the table.”
That followed the White House broadside Wednesday in which national security adviser Michael Flynn warned that Iran is “on notice” over the test launch. He also cited Iran’s support of rebels seeking to overthrow a U.S.-backed government in Yemen.
“This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, was quoted by Reuters as saying Thursday. “Iran does not need permission from any country to defend itself.”
Speaking to reporters, Velayati brushed off what he called Trump’s “baseless ranting” and pledged that missile tests would continue as Iran sees fit.
The exchange surrounding the missile test is the most substantive between the two countries since Trump took office two weeks ago and suggests that each nation is willing to escalate tension at the outset.
The posturing on the U.S. side appears to be mostly an attempt to seize the upper hand in what Trump officials have said will be a far tougher, less forgiving relationship with Tehran. Flynn directly blamed Barack Obama’s administration for emboldening Iranian aggression and regional ambitions, and Trump has ridiculed his predecessor for seeking more cordial, if wary, relations.
Trump is under political pressure to make good on campaign pledges to get tough on Iran, while Iran has a history of testing the resolve of new U.S. leaders. The Iranian leadership also faces domestic political pressures with a presidential election due this spring.
“It will take him a long time and will cost the United States a lot, until he learns what is happening in the world,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address Wednesday, in which he also accused Trump of discrimination and recklessness.
Rouhani, considered a cautious political reformer, presided over the partial warming of the three-decade freeze in U.S.-Iranian relations under Obama.
Rouhani said that Trump, in temporarily halting travel to the United States from Iran and six other Muslim-majority nations, is “trampling on all international principles and commitments.”
Iran had earlier vowed “reciprocal measures” for the ban, and the missile launch Sunday was widely seen as a test of the new U.S. administration.
It is not clear whether the launch violates a U.N. Security Council edict, but the Trump administration maintains that it does. The United States called an emergency Security Council review of what it called a “provocative” breach.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Carol Morello, Anne Gearan