U.S. Announces New Sanctions on Iran Over Ballistic Missile Test

Fresh sanctions on 13 individuals and 12 entities are 'just initial steps in response to Iranian provocative behavior.'

Long-range S-200 missile fired in a military drill near Bushehr, Iran, December 29, 2016.
Amir Kholousi/AP

The United States on Friday sanctioned 13 individuals and 12 entities under its Iran sanctions authority, days after the White House put Tehran "on notice" over a ballistic missile test and other activities.

Under the sanctions, those involved cannot access the U.S. financial system or deal with U.S. companies. They are also subject to "secondary sanctions," which means foreign companies and individuals are prohibited from dealing with them, or risk being blacklisted by the United States. 

A senior U.S. administration official said Friday's sanctions were an "initial step" in response to Iran's "provocative behavior," suggesting more could follow if Tehran does not curb its ballistic missile program and continues support for Houthi militia in Yemen. 

The U.S. moved a Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, close to the Bab al-Mandab Strait off the coast of Yemen to protect waterways. 

The move is the first against Iran since U.S. President Donald Trump took office on January 20. The sanctions were similar to actions taken by the Obama administration targeting Iran's ballistic missile network.

The new designations stuck to areas that remain under sanctions even with the 2015 nuclear deal in place, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iran's ballistic missile program.

"Today's action is part of Treasury's ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA," Treasury said, a reference to the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Among those sanctioned on Friday were companies, individuals, and brokers the U.S. Treasury said support a trade network run by an Iranian businessman, Abdollah Asgharzadeh.

The Treasury said he supported Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which the United States has said is a subsidiary of an Iranian entity that runs Iran's ballistic missile program.

The Treasury also sanctioned what it said was a Lebanon-based network run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military body that is also powerful in Iranian politics and the economy.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Friday ahead of the announcement: "Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people. We will never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defense". Zarif led the nuclear negotiations in 2015. 

Iran carried out a test launch of a medium-range ballistic missile on Sunday which exploded after 630 miles, a U.S. official said on Monday.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Friday expressed understanding for the U.S. decision to impose sanctions against Iran, saying the missile test was a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions. 

However, Gabriel warned against conflating the missile test with the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and six world powers. "It is also clear that the missile test has no impact on the nuclear agreement, and that we continue to support the implementation of this agreement, and that the United States does not intend to question that agreement now," Gabriel told reporters during a visit to the United Nations. 

Trump told reporters on Thursday that "nothing is off the table" in terms of a response to Iran's ballistic missile test. Trump made the comment in response to a question about whether he would consider military options to respond to Iran.

A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Trump on Thursday expressing support for his administration's plans to place new sanctions on Iran in light of its ballistic missile experiment conducted over the weekend.

In the letter, the senators wrote they were "concerned by reports that Iran conducted a ballistic missile test," adding that "[i]f it is confirmed, Iran will have again violated both the letter and the spirit of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology."

The accusation that Iran violated the nuclear accord was also made by Trump's National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. At a White House press briefing earlier this week, Flynn said Iran was "officially on notice," and that the Trump administration was going to tackle Iran's destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East. The Russian government, however, put out a statement saying it did not consider Iran's test a violation of the resolution.