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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

US Government imposes new sanctions on Iran as protests continue 

At least 21 people have died since from the unrest, according to reports coming from Iran

Mr Mattis: “We, the American people, do not have an issue with the Iranian people". AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS
Mr Mattis: “We, the American people, do not have an issue with the Iranian people". AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS

The Trump administration announced new unilateral sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile industries on Thursday, the first to be imposed since protests broke out in the country on December 28.

It comes as US Secretary of Defence James Mattis made first comments on the protests, saying his country has “a big issue” with the government in Tehran, but none with the Iranian people.

Mr Mattis was speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday just as the US State Department released a second statement in support of those protesting in Iran, indicating that it has “ample authorities to hold accountable those who commit violence against protesters, contribute to censorship, or steal from the people of Iran.”

The US treasury department in a statement said the sanctions “illustrate the Iranian Regime’s Prioritisation of Destabilising Weapons Systems at the Expense of its People” and targeted five Iran-based entities “subordinate to a key element of Iran’s ballistic missile program.” These are: Shahid Kharrazi Industries, Shahid Sanikhani Industries, Shahid Moghaddam Industries, Shahid Eslami Research Centre, and Shahid Shustari Industries. These industries were designated according to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382 prohibiting any dealings with them from US entities and threatening sanctions on foreign financial institutions that deal with those designated.

At least 21 people have died since from the unrest, according to reports coming from Iran.

In his press gaggle with reporters, Mr Mattis asked about the continued protests across Iran, said "We do not have an issue with the Iranian people. We, the American people, do not have an issue with the Iranian people. We've got a big issue with the Iranian authoritarian regime, and it appears that there's an awful lot of Iranian people who have an issue with it as well. Because even after squashing the Green revolution years ago, they obviously didn't remove the irritants and the dissatisfaction."

The statement echoes the Trump administration policy of drawing a wedge between the Iranian people and their government.

The State Department reiterated on Thursday its support for the protesters.

“The Iranian people have been expressing their desire for dignified treatment, an end to corruption, improved transparency, and increased economic opportunities” it said.

“The protesters have also demanded that the regime stop diverting the nation’s wealth to fund military adventurism abroad” the statement added, in reference to slogans against Iran’s role in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon that were heard at the demonstrations.

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Washington accused the Iranian government of jailing and killing those “who are brave enough to venture into the street” and of “limiting the flow of information into Iran.”

It condemned in “the deaths to date and the arrests of at least one thousand Iranians” and said “we [US government] have ample authorities to hold accountable those who commit violence against protesters, contribute to censorship, or steal from the people of Iran.”

It wasn’t clear what those authorities were and what actions could the US take against the government. Sanctions against individuals involved in the crackdown and pressure on tech companies to secure internet access to protesters and restrict supplies to the regime are reportedly being considered by the administration.

Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the RAND corporation, said “the US has been right to support the protesters...but ultimately this is out of US hands, it's up to Iranians.” However, Mr Nader told The National that the next step for the Trump administration should be “to rescind the US travel ban on Iranians, as this is a great source of disappointment.” Iran was among the list of countries in September whose most citizens are barred from entering the United States.

Besides rescinding the travel ban, Mr Nader saw a critical role for the US in facilitating the flow of information into and out of Iran” as well as use its broadcasts to Iran such as Voice of America (VOA) to “portray the current uprising in Iran accurately and objectively.”

US Vice President Mike Pence gave an interview to VOA on Wednesday where he said that Mr Trump’s “unapologetic willingness to stand with the courageous people of Iran, I know, is giving hope to the people on the streets of the cities of that country.” "And we're going to continue to support them not just verbally as they bring about change in their country” he added.

Mr Trump has tweeted eight times in support of the protesters since the demonstrations broke out on December 28. Democrat and Republican members of Congress have also issued statements of support, among them are Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Elizabeth Warren, Marco Rubio, John McCain, and Bernie Sanders.

Separately, Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary and Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state had an in-depth discussion on developments in Iran.

A statement from the UK Foreign Office said: "They agreed on the importance of the right of freedom of expression. They also agreed that human rights in Iran needed to be fully respected in handling the demonstrations and undertook to monitor the situation closely. The Foreign Secretary reiterated the UK’s ongoing commitment to the Iran nuclear deal and to working with our allies and partners to address Iran’s destabilising activities in the region".