Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

Donald Trump imposes new sanctions on Iran and offers to meet its leaders

An executive order issued by Trump covers Iran's iron, steel, aluminium and copper

US President Donald Trump said he would look forward to meeting with the leaders of Iran to work out an agreement. Reuters
US President Donald Trump said he would look forward to meeting with the leaders of Iran to work out an agreement. Reuters

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday imposed new sanctions on Iran's steel, aluminium and copper, but he also offered to some day meet the leaders.

On the one-year anniversary of US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, the White House announced the sanctions on the country’s largest non-petroleum exports.

“I dramatically strengthened our national security by ceasing America’s participation in the horrible, one-sided Iran nuclear deal,” Mr Trump said in a statement.

He said that the new sanctions would hit “Iran’s revenue from the export of industrial metals – 10 per cent of its export economy – and put other nations on notice that allowing Iranian steel and other metals into your ports will no longer be tolerated".

Mr Trump repeated the 12 conditions put forward by his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year to “offer the basis of a comprehensive agreement with Iran".

A handout file picture made available by the Iranian Presidency Office shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visiting the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the city of Bushehr, southern Iran, 13 January 2015. EPA
A handout file picture made available by the Iranian Presidency Office shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visiting the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the city of Bushehr, southern Iran, 13 January 2015. EPA

They included Iran halting any support for terrorism in the region, releasing US hostages and respecting the rights of its people.

While Mr Trump said more pressure and penalties could be put in place if Iran did not change its behaviour, he showed willingness to meet Iranian leaders.

“I look forward to some day meeting with the leaders of Iran to work out an agreement and, very importantly, take steps to give Iran the future it deserves,” he said.

Victoria Coates, Middle East director of the US National Security Council, said: “President Trump’s offers to meet with the Iranian regime are sincere, and it is his hope that they will accept and begin to build the better future that the people of Iran deserve.”

But such talks would be “on terms favourable to the US” and Iran would have to “choose between survival and exporting terror, as it will not be able to do both", Ms Coates said.

She said that recent floods in Iran and a locust swarm, along with the US sanctions, meant rough times ahead for the Iranian leadership and its economic forecast.

The US special representative on Iran, Brian Hook, said Washington wanted to negotiate a new nuclear agreement with Iran, but one that would be ratified by US Congress.

“By nearly every measure, the regime is weaker today than when we took office two years ago," Mr Hook said. "Its proxies are underfunded and demoralised.

"Unless the regime demonstrates a change in behaviour, the pressure on Tehran will mount."

Earlier on Wednesday, Tim Morrison, special assistant to the president, told an audience at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington that the two rounds of sanctions imposed on Iran were not the end of Mr Trump's action.

"Expect more sanctions soon. Very soon,” Mr Morrison said before the announcement.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that his country would halt its compliance on two commitments under the nuclear deal signed with world powers in 2015 unless it was renegotiated.

Speaking on an official visit to London, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington would push back on the threat by an "evil" Iran.

Mr Pompeo was to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to discuss the status of the "special relationship" between the nations.

"Not far from here are the Churchill war rooms, where a leader of this great country stared evil in the face and recognised the threat that evil presented to the entire world," Mr Pompeo said at the UK Foreign Office.

"We are working together to push back against that threat."

The nuclear deal was conceived to limit Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear material for more than a decade.

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Timeline: US-Iran tensions since the 2015 nuclear deal

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American officials said Tehran's decision to halt compliance to two commitments in the deal was tantamount to blackmailing Europe.

The continent's three major powers – Germany, Britain and France – have maintained their commitment to the deal they co-signed.

But US officials were confident that Washington's strategy to pressure Iran and hamper its regional activities was working.

“We will never be held hostage to the the regime’s nuclear blackmail and we are in much better position to address full range of Iran’s destabilising activities today,” Mr Hook said.

He said that economic pressure and designating more than 1,000 Iranian entities and people for sanctions since Mr Trump took office were bringing financial strain on the regime.

Mr Hook gave the cuts in Iran’s military budget, reports on slashing of salaries for its proxy militants in Iraq, Hezbollah’s fundraising activities and oil-smuggling efforts as evidence that the US strategy was working.

He said Tehran's announcement that it might increase its enrichment of uranium in 60 days was a “defiance of international norms and an attempt to hold the world hostage".

But he said that it was “too early to speculate until we see what, if anything, happens”.

Mr Hook said he expected the regime to stay in compliance with the deal.

Speaking next to Mr Pompeo in London, Mr Hunt said the two countries worked "incredibly closely" to counter Iran's destabilising activity in the Middle East.

"While we both agree that Iran must never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon, it is no secret that we have a different approach on how to achieve that," he said.

But Washington has made it clear that an offer from Mr Trump to negotiate with Iran is legitimate, giving his summits with North Korea as evidence.

Mr Morrison warned European businesses not to breach sanctions, and to “know that getting involved in the Instex special purpose vehicle is a very poor business decision".

He was referring to a system that offers a limited way for European businesses to deal with Tehran without using dollars or traditional banks.

The US is also increasing its military pressure on Iran.

“Intelligence showing that Iran is likely moving short-range ballistic missiles aboard boats” into the Gulf was one of the “critical reasons the US decided to move an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers into the region”, US officials told CNN on Tuesday.

A US defence official told The National that Washington was not seeking war with Iran but it stood ready to defend and protect US troops and interests in the region.

The official said sending the carrier strike force and B-52 bombers to the Gulf had been sped up by intelligence obtained on possible Iranian plots against US interests in the region.

But a report in The Daily Beast on Tuesday quoted a US official as saying: “It’s not that the administration is mischaracterising the intelligence, so much as overreacting to it.”

But the report said that Qassem Suleimani of Iran’s elite Quds Force “has told proxy forces in Iraq that a conflict with the US will come soon”.

Updated: May 9, 2019 07:43 AM

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