Trump Imposes Fresh Sanctions on Iran, Threatens Further Action

U.S. president uses executive order after Tehran says it will resume high level enrichment of uranium in 60 days if world powers don't keep their promises in nuclear deal

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rohani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, January 13, 2015.
Mohammad Berno,AP

 U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday imposed new sanctions targeting Iran's revenue from export of industrial metals and threatened further action unless Tehran "fundamentally" changed its behavior.

The move comes after Tehran announced it was scaling back some curbs to its nuclear program if world powers did not keep their promises under the 2015 agreement, which the U.S. withdrew from a year ago.

An executive order issued by Trump covers Iran's iron, steel, aluminum, and copper sectors, the Islamic Republic's largest non-petroleum-related sources of export revenue and 10 percent of its export economy, a statement from the White House said. 

Tim Morrison, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Biodefense, told a conference that Washington was not 'done' with imposing sanctions on Iran. 

"Expect more sanctions soon. Very soon," he said. 

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A letter from Rohani was delivered to the envoys of countries that are still committed to the deal despite the unilateral U.S. pullout.

In a nationally televised speech, Rohani said that after 60 days, Iran will scale back more compliance with the deal, and will increase their uranium enrichment.

He also warned of a "firm response" if the nuclear case is once again referred to the UN Security Council, and that Tehran is ready for nuclear negotiations. The five world leaders were also told that Tehran will no longer sell its enriched uranium and heavy water to other countries.

"We can't implement an international agreement by ourselves if the other side does not," Rohani said at a cabinet meeting in Tehran.

Responding to Rohani's comments during a speech a Memorial Day ceremony in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel "will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon."

Iran had patiently waited for one year after the U.S. pulled out, but the remaining five powers were not able to fulfill their obligations, he said.

In a first phase of Tehran's gradual withdrawal, the country will no longer abide by the limits regarding its enriched uranium stock and materials related to its heavy water reactor in Arak, according to Rohani.

Morrison later warned European banks, investors and businesses against engaging with the so-called special purpose vehicle (SPV), a Europe-backed system to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran and circumvent U.S. sanctions and called Iran's move "nothing less than nuclear blackmail of Europe." 

"If you are a bank, an investor, an insurer or other business in Europe you should know that getting involved in the _ Special Purpose Vehicle is a very poor business decision," Morrison said. 

Later Wednesday, Iran Special Envoy Brian Hook, said that the U.S. will not grant more sanction waivers to any Iranian oil buyers. 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted in state media saying Iran will reduce some "voluntary" commitments within its nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, as a response to members' inability to resist U.S. pressure, but will not withdraw from it. 

Iran's state media said earlier Tehran would write to the countries still signed up to the deal - U.S. allies Britain, France and Germany as well as Russia and China - on Wednesday to give them details about plans to "diminish its commitments" under the deal. 

"Iran's future actions will be fully within the (nuclear deal), from which the Islamic Republic will not withdraw," Zarif said, according to state media. "The European Union and others ... did not have the power to resist U.S. pressure, therefore Iran ... will not carry out some voluntary commitments." 

Zarif told his Russian counterpart on Wednesday that Tehran's decision to reduce some voluntary commitments was legal, the RIA news agency reported. 

Moscow 'values Iran's commitment to deal'; European countries assess next move

Zarif, in Moscow for talks, told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Iran's actions did not violate the original terms of the nuclear agreement and that Tehran now had 60 days to take the necessary diplomatic steps. Zarif also brought a letter from Rohani for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Zarif said Wednesday that only Russia and China supported Iran over the nuclear deal. Lavrorv told Zarif that Moscow values Iran's commitment to the deal. 

The Kremlin said that Iran had been provoked into rolling back some of the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal due to external pressure which it blamed on the United States.

“President (Putin) has repeatedly spoken of the consequences of unthought-out steps regarding Iran and by that I mean the decision taken by Washington (to quit the deal). Now we are seeing those consequences are starting to happen,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

China says the U.S. has "further aggravated" tensions over the Iran nuclear issue. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that China appreciated Iran's "strict implementation" of its nuclear deal, and that China "calls on all parties concerned to exercise restraint" and avoid escalating tensions.

Geng's comments came after Washington moved to deploy an aircraft carrier and a bomber wing to confront unspecified threats from Tehran.

The European Union is in an "assessment phase" after the announcement, a senior EU official said on condition of anonymity.

"The contents of the messages sent have to be analysed," he noted, adding that consultations would take place in the coming days between Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

EU foreign ministers will have a first opportunity to discuss the developments at regular talks in Brussels on Monday. Any EU decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran would have to be made by all member states.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday that "we have learned of Iran's announcement with great concern and we will look at this very closely now."

He said Berlin wants to hold on to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from last year, and is in talks with the remaining parties.

Maas added that "all steps must be avoided that could endanger regional stability and security."

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says Iran's threat to resume higher enrichment of uranium is an "unwelcome step."

He urged Iran to adhere to a 2015 nuclear deal with the West, which the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from last year, to the dismay of its European allies. Speaking at a news conference Wednesday in London alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Hunt said "I urge Iran not to take further escalatory steps."

But he said Britain was not ready to give up on the deal. Hunt said "for as long as Iran keeps its commitments then so too will the United Kingdom."
He said Britain and the United States agreed on the need to confront the threat from Iran, but "it's no secret we have a different approach on how best to achieve that." Pompeo said his discussions with Hunt on Iran had been "forthright."

France's defense minister said on Wednesday it wanted to keep the nuclear deal alive, and warned that if Iran were to not keep to its commitments then the question of triggering a mechanism that could lead to sanctions would be on the table. 

Speaking to BFM TV, Florence Parly said nothing would be worse than Iran withdrawing from the deal and that France, Britain and Germany were doing all they could to keep the accord alive. 

China's foreign ministry said on Wednesday the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement should be fully implemented and all sides have a responsibility to ensure it happens. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang made the remarks during a daily briefing. 

The move came a year to the date Trump withdrew America from the accord.

The letters will come as officials in the Islamic Republic previously warned that Iran might increase its uranium enrichment, potentially pulling away from a deal it has sought to salvage for months.