Friday 19 July 2019

Trump announces new 'hard-hitting' sanctions against Iranian ayatollah

Talks: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Photo: JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images
Talks: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz. Photo: JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images

Erin Cunningham

Donald Trump signed "hard-hitting" sanctions against Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei in the latest round of a stand-off that has brought the United States and the Islamic republic to the brink of war.

The US president said the sanctions would deny access to "key financial resources and support" for the ayatollah, his office and those "closely affiliated" with him.

Pressure: Donald Trump said 'never can Iran have a nuclear weapon'. Photo: REUTERS
Pressure: Donald Trump said 'never can Iran have a nuclear weapon'. Photo: REUTERS

Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, said that while the sanctions had been prepared for some time they were enlarged as a result of recent Iranian hostile actions.

"We do not ask for conflict," Mr Trump said as he signed the order, adding: "Never can Iran have a nuclear weapon."

Iran and the US nearly plunged into warfare last week after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz.

On Friday, Mr Trump said he had cancelled retaliatory military strikes at the last minute after learning they could kill 150 people, but promised new sanctions instead.

Tensions have been building since last year, when Mr Trump withdrew the US from a 2015 agreement that granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curtailing its nuclear programme, saying it would not prevent the Islamic republic from developing a bomb.

His administration has imposed a series of punishing economic sanctions in efforts to force Tehran to negotiate a new deal.

Iran has said it will begin to breach the deal by the end of this week unless European signatories relieve the economic pressure.

The sanctions were issued as Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, began a diplomatic effort to build a global "coalition" around America's Iran policy.

Mr Pompeo met Saudi Arabia's King Salman in Riyadh yesterday and is expected to fly on to the United Arab Emirates, India, Japan and South Korea in the coming days.

John Bolton, Mr Trump's national security adviser, met his Israeli and Russian counterparts for a meeting in Jerusalem yesterday.

Mr Trump told China and Japan yesterday to protect their own oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, warning that Asian economies would be hardest hit by conflict there.

He lamented on Twitter that the United States was "protecting the shipping lanes" in the strait for "other countries... for zero compensation".

"All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been... a dangerous journey," he said.

The US has blamed Iran for attacks on tankers near the Strait on May 12 and June 13.

Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said Washington would raise maritime security with Asian countries at the summit of G20 leaders in Japan this weekend.

The Trump administration attempted to rally regional allies in an anti-Iran coalition.

The United States has embarked on a "maximum pressure campaign" to isolate Iran and roll back its influence in the region.

"This is a global challenge that requires a global response," Mr Hook said.

The United States wants to build a multinational force to enhance maritime security in the strait.

Mr Hook said that options included enhancing a multinational naval force that fights arms and drug smuggling, or launching a new security initiative.

The tightening of sanctions came yesterday after Iran's navy chief warned the United States that Iranian forces could shoot down more surveillance drones if they violate the country's airspace.

"The enemy dispatched its most sophisticated... and most complicated surveillance aircraft" to spy on Iran, and "everyone saw the downing of the drone", Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said yesterday, referring to the US navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone shot down by Iran last week.

Such a response from Iran "can always be repeated", he said, the Tasnim News Agency reported. "And the enemy knows it."

Tensions spiked in recent weeks following a string of attacks on commercial tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway for global oil shipments.

Irish Independent

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