US Slaps New Sanctions on Iran over ‘Malign Activities across Middle East’

An Iranian woman holds a cartoon of US president Donald trump standing in between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Salman of Saudi Arabia during a rally marking Al Quds Day (Jerusalem Day), in support of Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation, in Tehran, Iran, 23 June 2017. Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • US has hit Iran with new sanctions for the second time in five months.
  • It has designated 18 entities or individuals and a criminal organization.
  • State support of terrorism, ballistic missile program, and human rights abuses are cited by Washington as the justification for the new Iran sanctions.
  • US has called upon Iran to release of all American citizens that it has detained.
  • US says it is going to keep sticking to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, and to abstaining from the sanctions lifted under it.

The Trump Administration has introduced new US sanctions against Iran over what it says are “malign activities across the Middle East” – even though Washington acknowledges that Tehran has been adhering to the landmark Iranian nuclear deal made in 2015.

At the start of the Trump Administration in January and February, US relations with Iran worsened after the Islamic Republic carried out ballistic missiles tests, and new US sanctions against Iran were announced.

The July 2015 Iranian nuclear deal (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was signed by Iran and six other powers (US, China, Russia, UK, France, and Germany, with the involvement of the EU) to ensure that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, and not for the development of nuclear weapons.

The agreement was championed by former US President Barack Obama and his Administration as one of its landmark foreign policy achievements. However, it came under severe criticism by the new US President Donald Trump long before his election and inauguration.

The Iranian nuclear deal has been heavily criticized by some Republican Congressmen and by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US President Trump included Iran in the travel and immigration blacklist, together with several other Muslim Middle Eastern countries, in both of his “Muslim travel ban” executive orders.

On his first foreign trip, in May, Trump went to Iran’s arch-rival in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, where he lambasted Tehran as a state sponsor of terrorism.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made it clear that even though Iran sticks to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Trump Administration is considering the possibility of unilaterally violating the terms of the deal.

Iranians burn US and Israeli flags during a rally marking Al Quds Day (Jerusalem Day), in support of Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation, in Tehran, Iran, 23 June 2017. Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Long List of Accusations

The US State Department and the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department announced on Tuesday new sanctions against Iran and Iran-related entities, arguing that “Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East which undermine regional stability, security, and prosperity.”

The Trump Administration designated 18 entities and individuals supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program, military procurement, or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as what it called an Iran-based transnational criminal organization and associated persons (full list here).

“This Administration will continue to aggressively target Iran’s malign activity, including their ongoing state support of terrorism, ballistic missile program, and human rights abuses,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“These sanctions target procurement of advanced military hardware, such as fast attack boats and unmanned aerial vehicles, and send a strong signal that the United States cannot and will not tolerate Iran’s provocative and destabilizing behavior. We will continue to target the IRGC and pressure Iran to cease its ballistic missile program and malign activities in the region,” Mnuchin elaborated.

Under the new sanctions, all property of those designated subject to US jurisdiction is blocked, US persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them, and relevant foreign persons risk exposure to similar measures on part of the US.

“Iran continues to support terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that threaten Israel and stability in the Middle East,” the US State Department said.

“Iran has maintained its steadfast support for the Assad regime, despite Assad’s atrocities against his own people. Iran also continues to provide the Houthi rebels in Yemen with advanced weaponry that threatens freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, has been used to attack Saudi Arabia, and is prolonging the Yemen conflict,” it added to its list of accusations against Tehran.

The US State Department also lambasted Iran for continuing to test and develop ballistic missiles “in direct defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231.”

“Iran’s other malign activities are serving to undercut whatever “positive contributions” to regional and international peace and security were intended to emerge from the JCPOA,” Washington said, referring to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.

The US State Department designated the IRGC Aerospace Force Self Sufficiency Jihad Organization (ASF SSJO), which is involved in Iranian ballistic missile research and flight test launches, and the IRGC Research and Self Sufficiency Jehad Organization (RSSJO), which is responsible for the research and development of ballistic missiles.

Additionally, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), designated seven entities and five individuals for engaging in activities in support of Iran’s military procurement or the IRGC, as well as “an Iran-based transnational criminal organization and three associated persons.”

OFAC also designated two Iranian businessmen and associated entities “who orchestrated the theft of US and western software programs which, at times, were sold to the Government of Iran.”

Urging Iran to release detained US citizens, Washingon said the regime in Tehran “has an egregious human rights record, which includes denial of the freedom of religion or belief as well as other human rights and fundamental freedoms to individuals in Iran.”

The US also accused Iran of coercing Afghan refugees to fight in the Syrian Civil War, and supporting militias in Iraq using child soldiers.

Sticking to the 2015 Nuclear Deal

“The Administration is continuing to conduct a full review of U.S. policy toward Iran. During the course of this review, the United States will continue to aggressively counter Iran’s malign activities in the region,” the US State Department said.

“While the review is ongoing, the United States will also continue to expect strict Iranian adherence to Iran’s nuclear commitments under the JCPOA and look to the International Atomic Energy Agency to continue to monitor and verify all of Iran’s nuclear commitments,” it added.

The State Department did stress that the US was going to continue to comply with its commitments under the JCPOA, and that the lifting of sanctions against Iran thanks to the nuclear deal will remain in place.

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