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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, August 07, 2018 1:00 am

US revives sanctions against Iran

Had been suspended following '15 nuclear agreement

Carol Morello | Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration Monday moved to reimpose the first round of Iranian trade sanctions that had been suspended under the 2015 nuclear agreement, distancing itself from every other country that signed the agreement and putting the accord's future in jeopardy.

U.S. officials said the sanctions that have been waived the past two and a half years would be snapped back officially this morning at one minute past midnight.

Iran will be prohibited from using U.S. dollars, the primary currency or international financial transactions and oil purchases. Trade in metals and sales of Iranian-made cars will be banned. Permits allowing the import of Iranian carpets and food, such as pistachios, will be revoked. So will licenses that have allowed Tehran to buy U.S. and European aircraft and parts – a restriction that comes just days after Iran completed the acquisition of five new commercial planes from Europe.

Those who don't comply could be subject to “severe consequences,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. That was directed at European governments that expressed regret over the U.S. sanctions, and vowed to protect their own companies from legal reprisals by the U.S. government.

The resumption of sanctions leaves the Iranian nuclear agreement, once heralded as a historic breakthrough with the potential to end four decades of hostility between the U.S. and Iranian governments, on its final legs. As Trump ordered in May when he withdrew the U.S. from the accord, sanctions on petroleum will be restored in 90 days, Nov. 4. U.S. officials have advised governments around the world to begin winding down their purchases of Iranian oil, eventually to zero, to starve Tehran of its chief source of foreign income.

The Iranian sanctions are the latest in a series of actions Trump has taken to reverse programs that formed the backbone of President Barack Obama's legacy. Trump has ditched the Paris climate agreement and a Pacific Rim trade pact and is working to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. During the 2016 campaign, he frequently derided the nuclear deal with Iran as one of the worst in history, insisting he could secure better terms that also would address Iran's support of militants in the region, its ballistic missile tests and human rights abuses.

A number of prominent hawks on Iran are in the administration's upper reaches, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton. They rarely mention Iran without calling it, in the same breath, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Pompeo disparages the Iranians as “bad actors” in the region guilty of all sorts of “malign activities,” including support for militants in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

In a background call to reporters, senior administration officials said Monday the goal of the renewed sanctions is twofold: to renegotiate the nuclear agreement and to change the government's behavior. They openly sided with Iranian protesters unhappy with the faltering economy and social issues, but stopped just short of calling on Iranians to rise up against their government that has spent heavily on militias around the region instead of lifting up the fortunes of its own citizens.

“The president has been very clear,” said one official. “None of this needs to happen. ... The Iranian people should not suffer because of their regime's hegemonic regional ambitions.”

In his statement, Trump slammed the Obama administration's “horrible” agreement and declared himself receptive to a replacement for the accord officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“The JCPOA, a horrible, one-sided deal, failed to achieve the fundamental objective of blocking all paths to an Iranian nuclear bomb, and it threw a lifeline of cash to a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence, and chaos,” he said.

In a gesture aimed at European countries that consider the deal vital to their security but remain concerned about Iran's other activities, Trump added: “As we continue applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime, I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime's malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism. The United States welcomes the partnership of likeminded nations in these efforts.”

Like other officials in his administration, Trump hinted at his desire for a different government to replace the theocratic rulers of Iran, without directly calling for regime change.

“The United States continues to stand with the long-suffering Iranian people, who are the rightful heirs to Iran's rich heritage and the real victims of the regime's policies,” he said. “We look forward to the day when the people of Iran, and all people across the region, can prosper together in safety and peace.”

In an interview on Fox News, Bolton said Trump is serious in offering to meet with Iranian officials.

“If the ayatollahs want to get out from under the squeeze, they should come and sit down,” Bolton said. “The pressure will not relent while the negotiations go on, much as in the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea.”

One of the first reactions from Tehran came from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who zeroed in on sanctions affecting the sale of commercial aircraft. Administration officials said Iran uses civilian planes to ferry equipment and supplies to militias throughout the region.

“Trump Administration wants the world to believe it's concerned about the Iranian people,” Zarif tweeted. “Yet the very first sanctions it reimposed have canceled licenses for sales of 200+ passenger jets under absurd pretexts, endangering ordinary Iranians. US hypocrisy knows no bounds.”

In another tweet, Zarif posted photos of Japan after U.S. planes detonated two nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Reaction in Congress was divided along party lines.

Democrats warned of the dangers of reimposing sanctions. “It risks reopening a resolved conflict, and will divide us further from our European allies,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who helped shepherd the deal through Congress.

Republicans welcomed the move as a brake on Iranian aggression. “Make Iran Great Again,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Dump the Ayatollah!”

The European Union and U.S. allies Britain, France and Germany announced what they called a “blocking statute” to take effect today that would attempt to nullify U.S. legal action against European firms doing business with Iran.

“We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran, in accordance with EU law,” a joint statement said.

“The JCPOA is working and delivering on its goal, namely to ensure that the Iranian programme remains exclusively peaceful,” said the statement, which repeated the commitment of the remaining parties to the deal to keep financial channels open and continue Iran's export of oil and gas.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with monitoring Iran's nuclear program, has said in 11 consecutive reports that Tehran remains in compliance with the commitments it made.

The White House hopes the renewed sanctions will provide leverage over Tehran's collapsing economy. The Iranian rial has been in a free fall as the deadline for the first round of sanctions neared. Previous sanctions were widely credited with getting Iran to the negotiating table, and the government's promises that the agreement would bear fruit with a booming economy never materialized.