WASHINGTON D.C. The United States declared on Monday that it was imposing sanctions on Iran’s Defense Ministry and enforcing an arms embargo under a United Nations authority that is extensively contested.
US President Donald Trump said he issued an executive order “restoring United Nations (UN) sanctions on Iran, and imposing new sanctions and export controls on more than two dozen entities and individuals that support Iran’s nuclear, missile, and conventional arms-related activities.”
Administration officials say they will launch a raft of new punitive measures on Monday, which some observers believe may be aimed at seeking to provoke a confrontation with Tehran in the run up to the US election.
The Trump administration argues that it is enforcing a UN arms embargo that Iran has violated, including through an attack on Saudi oil facilities.
But it is using a UN resolution that blessed a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran negotiated by former president Barack Obama.
Trump pulled out of the resolution with fanfare in 2018, but argues that the United States is still a “participant” in the accord, as it was listed in the 2015 resolution.
The Trump administration has said it will consider UN sanctions, mostly involving the arms trade, as having resumed and has threatened to take new measures to enforce them.
Thirteen of fourteen of the UN Security Council disagreed and rejected the US position, saying it was no longer a participant in the 2015 agreement and had no standing to trigger a sanctions “snapback”.
The sanctions target 27 entities and officials related to Iran’s proliferation activities, the statement from the White House said.
The order seizes US assets from “those who contribute to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran, as well as those who provide technical training, financial support and services, and other assistance related to these arms.”
“This executive order is critical to enforcing the UN arms embargo on Iran. The order will greatly diminish the Iranian regime’s capacity to export arms to terrorists and dangerous actors throughout the region, as well as its ability to acquire weapons to build up its own forces,” Trump said in a statement.
The sanctions were also announced in a press conference by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“For nearly two years, corrupt officials in Tehran have worked with the illegitimate regime in Venezuela to flout the United Nations arms embargo,” Pompeo told reporters of the sanctions, which also target Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
“Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide,” he said.
Pompeo said Trump’s executive order “is a new and powerful tool to enforce the UN arms embargo.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, appearing with Pompeo, also announced separate sanctions on the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
Trump clarified saying that, the threat is formidable: Those deemed to be in defiance by Washington will be denied access to the US financial system and markets.
The US announcement is certain to cause controversy during the UN’s annual high-level meetings of the General Assembly starting Monday, which is being held mainly virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Washington is almost alone on the issue: all the other great powers — China, Russia and also the US’ own European allies, have challenged the claim.
Elliott Abrams, the US special envoy on Venezuela and Iran, said there would be a major announcement on Monday about the scale of US actions.
“The arms embargo will now be re-imposed indefinitely and other restrictions will return, including the ban on Iran engaging in enrichment and reprocessing-related activities, the prohibition on ballistic missile testing and development, and sanctions on the transfer of nuclear and missile-related technologies to Iran,” Abrams said.