The United States on Monday imposed new sanctions on Iran aimed at the Supreme Leader and Revolutionary Guards commanders, increasing pressure on a country that President Donald Trump has threatened to “destroy” if he seeks war.
In the Oval Office, Trump signed an order imposing financial sanctions on Iran, saying it was “a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative moves”.
“We will continue to increase the pressure on Tehran … Iran can never possess a nuclear weapon”, Trump said, stressing that the ball is now on the Iranian negotiating ground.
“We’re not asking for the conflict”.
He said that based on Iran’s response, the sanctions could be ended tomorrow or “could last for years to come”.
In an expansion of sanctions, the Treasury Department announced it would add Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif to the black list and freeze more Iranian assets with “billions of dollars”.
The tension escalated after Iran dropped an American spy plane last week, after which Trump wanted to strike but retracted his mind.
Iran, paralyzed by US sanctions, including stopping most of its oil exports, has sought to minimize the impact of US sanctions.
“Are there still sanctions that the US has not imposed on our country or our nation recently or during the last 40 years?”
Asked Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi at a press conference in Tehran.
“We don’t think it has any effect”.
Amid widespread diplomatic activity, the United States, Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have called for “diplomatic solutions” to reduce the escalation with Iran.
“We call on Iran to stop any further steps that threaten regional stability and urge diplomatic solutions to reduce tensions”, the statement said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that he would meet with his US counterpart “privately” on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty summit this weekend in Japan to discuss the Iranian issue.
But Moscow, an ally of Iran, said the new sanctions Washington was preparing to impose were “illegal”.
Trump: US policy is clear.
Trump has been criticized within the United States for sending mixed messages to Iran.
Trump, however, stressed that he has a clear strategy that is very different from previous US policy in the troubled Middle East.
On Monday, Trump said America’s goals for Iran were “not to acquire nuclear weapons and to stop sponsoring terrorism”.
Iran asserts that it does not possess nuclear weapons.
Washington withdrew in May 2018 from the International Compact on Iran’s nuclear program reached in 2015.
Washington has re-imposed tough sanctions on Iran, especially in the oil sector, to deprive the Islamic Republic of economic gains it had hoped to obtain from the deal.
Although some in Washington see the ultimate goal of regime change in Tehran, Trump says he wants to avoid war and is open to negotiations with Iranian leaders.
Trump called on countries that import large quantities of Gulf oil to participate in protecting the freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.
“We don’t even need to be there as long as the United States is the world’s top energy producer”, Trump said.
“91 percent of China’s oil imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz, 62 percent of Japanese imports, and the same applies to many other countries”, he said.
“Why do we have to protect these sea routes for many years for other countries without getting compensation”.
So far, it seems that the policy of the islands and the stick has not worked with the Iranians.
President Hassan Rouhani tweeted on Monday: “America’s claims that it is prepared to negotiate unconditionally as threats and sanctions continue”.
The dispute is intermingled with a group of adversaries in the region as US and Saudi allies urge it to act aggressively against Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that his country would do all it could to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon when meeting a senior Russian official amid intense tension in the strategic Gulf region.
In New York, the UN Security Council is scheduled to meet later on Monday at the request of the United States to discuss the tension.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for talks in which he sought to pave the way for building an alliance to monitor shipping in the Gulf region.
“We’ve to build an alliance to prevent Iranians from continuing what they do in the Gulf, which undermines free trade”, a US official told reporters as Pompeo was in route from Jeddah to Abu Dhabi.
Pompeo met Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah.
On the other hand, the Sultanate of Oman confirmed on Monday that it didn’t convey a message from the United States to Iran after Tehran toppled a US aircraft and threatened Washington to respond, according to the Omani Ministry.
Despite Trump’s failure to strike Iran, the US media said the United States carried out cyber-attacks against a missile launch system and an Iranian spy network in response to the downing of the plane.
However, Iranian Communications Minister Mohammad Jawad Azeri Jahrami denied any effect on Monday.
In a related context, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif said on Monday that the US military “has nothing to do with the Gulf” after Washington announced new sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“It is 100 percent right that the US military has nothing to do with the Gulf”, Zarif wrote in a terse note without referring to the sanctions.
Zarif, who Washington said would be targeted this week by new US sanctions, added that “the withdrawal of its troops is fully in line with the interests of the United States and the world”.
“It is now clear that (Group B) is not interested in US interests.
They despise diplomacy and thirst for war”.
Zarif uses the term “Group B” in English to describe the team he believes includes US national security adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his counterpart in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
Zarif is accused of being the mastermind who gives Trump advice to make his decisions on Iran.