The United States imposed sanctions Monday on Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a string of military chiefs, tightening pressure on the country that President Donald Trump threatened with “obliteration” if it seeks war.
Trump signed the punitive financial measures against in the Oval Office, calling this a “strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions.”
Repeating that “never can Iran have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said it was now up to Tehran to negotiate.
“We do not ask for conflict,” he said, adding that depending on Iran’s response the sanctions could end tomorrow — or it “can also be years from now.”
Expanding on the new measures, the Treasury said the United States will blacklist Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and block “billions” more in Iranian assets, with eight top commanders from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards already added to the list.
Tensions are running high after Iran shot down a US spy drone last week and Trump considered, then canceled, a retaliatory strike.
Iran, crippled by existing US sanctions that include the blocking of most of its crucial oil exports, sought to play down the US move.
“Are there really any sanctions left that the United States has not imposed on our country recently or in the past 40 years?” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said shortly before Trump signed his order.
“We… do not consider them to have any impact,” he said.
Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity, the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates urged “diplomatic solutions” in the standoff, which is playing out in a region crucial to the global economy’s oil supplies.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he would use a meeting with Trump at the G20 summit in Japan to urge “a constructive solution with the aim of ensuring collective regional security.”
The Kremlin, which has longstanding links to Iran’s government, earlier called Monday’s sanctions “illegal.”
– US policy clear: Trump –
At home, Trump has taken criticism for sending mixed messages to Iran. However, the US president insists he has a clear strategy that breaks firmly with past US policy in the tinderbox Middle East.
In a pair of tweets Monday, Trump said US aims regarding Iran boil down to “No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror.”
On Sunday, Trump told an NBC television interview that if it came to war, Iran would experience “obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”
Iran insists that it does not have a nuclear weapons program.
It signed onto an international pact in 2015 meant to ensure that its nuclear industry sticks to civilian uses. Trump, however, pulled the United States out of the deal in 2017, seeking its collapse.
But while some in Washington see the White House’s ultimate goal as regime change in Tehran, Trump says he wants to avoid war and that he’s open to negotiations with Iran’s leaders.
He also insists that Washington’s hands are freer than in the past because its own energy production frees it of dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
This means the United States should no longer be seen as the guarantor of open sea lanes in the Gulf region, which saw two mysterious attacks in mid-June on non-US tankers that Washington claims were carried out by Tehran.
“All of these countries should be protecting their own ships,” Trump tweeted Monday. “We don’t even need to be there.”
So far, Trump’s carrot-and-stick message does not seem to be getting through to Tehran.
“America’s claim of readiness for unconditional negotiation is not acceptable with the continuation of threats and sanctions,” Hesamodin Ashna, an advisor to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, said Monday on Twitter.
– International diplomacy –
The dispute is bound up in a complex web of regional rivalries, with US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel long pushing Washington to act aggressively against Iran.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned his country, which is widely believed to have an undeclared nuclear arsenal, would do “everything” to stop Iran getting such a weapon.
In New York, the UN Security Council was to meet later Monday at the request of the United States to discuss the tensions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travelled Monday to meet with Saudi leaders to build what he called a “global coalition” against the Islamic republic.
Pompeo met Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea city of Jeddah and was later due to hold talks in the United Arab Emirates.
The sultanate of Oman, meanwhile, said reports that it had served as a back channel for the United States to Iran in the aftermath of last week’s drone shooting were “not true.”
The foreign ministry called on Iran and the United States via Twitter “to show self-control and to resolve the pending issues through dialogue.”
Although Trump backed away from a bombing strike in retaliation for last week’s drone downing, US media reports said a US cyber attack took place against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network.
On Monday Iranian Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said no cyber attack against his country had ever succeeded.
MSNBC’s Morning Joe laughs out loud at Fox News praise for Trump’s ‘superman’ energy: ‘He does one or two things a day, tops’
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough tried to unravel President Donald Trump's mysterious hospital visit over the weekend, which the White House insists was the beginning of his annual physical.
The "Morning Joe" host laughed out loud at a clip of White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham and Fox News host Jeanine Pirro praising the president's "superman" energy after the surprise hospital visit.
"Who was it, was it (Treasury Secretary Steve) Mnuchin who praised his perfect genes?" Scarborough said. "Was it Steve Mnuchin who said had he superhuman genes? And they said he would live to be 200 if he ate better?"
Qantas backs legal action against will.i.am over racism claim
Australia's Qantas on Monday rejected accusations of in-flight racism from US performer will.i.am, with the airline saying it would back legal action against the Black Eyed Peas frontman.
The multiple Grammy-winning artist had lashed out at a Qantas flight attendant and named her on Twitter after she called the police over an altercation during a flight from Brisbane to Sydney.
In his tweets, the star said the crew member had been "overly aggressive" and unnecessarily escalated the situation after he didn't hear an on-board safety briefing because he was wearing headphones.
Using the hashtag #RacistFlightAttendant, he said she was "beyond rude" and "took it to the next level by calling the police", five of whom were waiting for him when the 90-minute flight landed on Saturday.
Pope to Hiroshima on mission against ‘immoral’ nuclear weapons
Pope Francis, who years ago hoped to be a missionary in Japan, travels to the sites of the world's only atomic attacks this week seeking a ban on "immoral" nuclear weapons.
"Your country is well aware of the suffering caused by war," the Argentine pontiff, 82, said in a video message to the Japanese people on Monday.
"Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history. The use of nuclear weapons is immoral," said the head of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics.
Pope Francis flies to Asia on Tuesday, where he will first visit Thailand and then Japan, including the two cities destroyed by devastating US nuclear attacks during the Second World War.