President Donald Trump’s administration will levy new sanctions on Iran, US officials have said.
The measures are the first punitive action taken since the White House put Iran “on notice” after it test-fired a ballistic missile.
Staff at the US Treasury department announced the measures against 13 people and a dozen companies yesterday. Iran has said it will not yield to “useless” American threats from “an inexperienced person”.
The sanctions, coming in the first weeks of Mr Trump’s term, reflect his administration’s desire to take a strong stance towards Iran from the start. Throughout his campaign, Mr Trump accused the Obama administration of being insufficiently tough on the country and vowed to crack down if elected.
Confirmation of the sanctions comes after Mr Trump lashed out against the Islamic Republic in a Twitter post yesterday, saying: “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me.”
Many sanctions on Iran that had been imposed in response to its nuclear programme were lifted in the final years of the Obama administration as part of the nuclear deal brokered by the US and world powers.
Some of those penalties could be re-imposed under separate sanction authorities unrelated to nuclear issues.
That prospect raises the possibility of a fresh confrontation between the US and Iran, which has forcefully argued that it considers any new sanctions a violation of the nuclear deal.
The US has maintained that it retains the right to sanction Iran for other behaviour such as supporting terrorism.
“This is fully consistent with the Obama administration’s commitment to Congress that the nuclear deal does not preclude the use of non-nuclear sanctions,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.
The new sanctions also come after Mr Trump and his aides issued cryptic warnings about potential retaliation against Tehran for testing a ballistic missile and for supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen.
US leaders accuse Iran of arming and financing the rebels, who this week claimed a successful missile strike against a warship belonging to a Saudi-led coalition fighting to reinstall Yemen’s internationally recognised government.
Iran denies arming the Houthis.
“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” said Mr Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
US lawmakers from both parties have encouraged Mr Trump not to let the missile test go unpunished. On Thursday, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee joined more than a dozen other lawmakers to urge Mr Trump to act.
“Iranian leaders must feel sufficient pressure to cease deeply destabilising activities,” the lawmakers wrote.
Iran has reacted angrily to the threats of retaliation. Ali-Akbar Velayati, foreign adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, predicted this week that the US “would be the final loser”.
“It is not for the first time that a naive person from the US poses threats to Iran,” Mr Velayati said.
And yesterday, Iran’s official news agency reported that US wrestlers had been banned from participating in the Freestyle World Cup competition in Kermanshah. The report quotes Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying that the decision was reached after a special committee reviewed the case. This decision marks the first action by Iran in response to Mr Trump’s executive order which banned visas for seven Muslim countries.