President Trump’s decision Friday to quickly slap new sanctions on Iran after it conducted a ballistic missile test signals the hard turn the new administration intends to take with Tehran.
It capped a week in which the fiery rhetoric from Team Trump highlighted rising tensions between the two countries.
The new sanctions were cheered by Republicans, who had pushed former President Obama to respond more muscularly to Iran’s provocations.
“If you look at the world and you look at the Iranians and you look at what they’ve done, there has to be a response,” Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump’s pick for CIA No. 2 prompts fears Trump makes right turn on Iran The Trump opposition: Hell hath no fury like Democrats’ scorn MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this week.
The White House announced new sanctions on 13 people and 12 companies, including several entities that support the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and help the Iranian government procure materials for its missile program.
The individuals and companies — based in Iran, China, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates — are banned from doing business with U.S. institutions or American citizens.
The Treasury Department maintained the new sanctions are “fully consistent” with the United States’ obligations under the nuclear agreement and that nobody on whom sanctions were lifted under the deal has been redesignated.
Experts have said sanctions that could truly hurt Iran would likely violate the deal
The launch was widely interpreted as a test from Tehran of Trump’s response.
The sanctions themselves aren’t much of a departure from the Obama administration’s handling of Iran’s missile program. In January 2016, Obama’s Treasury Department sanctioned nearly a dozen Iranian-linked entities for their role in the program.
But Republicans accused Obama of dragging his feet in responding to the ballistic missile tests and not responding more robustly, saying Obama was choosing to placate Tehran so as not to risk the future of the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.
By contrast, they said, Trump’s quick response shows that America will not tolerate Iran’s provocative behavior.
“This announcement makes clear that it is a new day in U.S.-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerTrump makes right turn on Iran Trump embraces his critics’ outrage Senators to Trump: We support additional Iran sanctions MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday in a statement. “A coordinated, multi-faceted effort to pushback against a range of illicit Iranian behavior is long overdue.”
Democrats, some of whom chafed at times to Obama’s policies toward Tehran, also praised Friday’s sanctions.
“I have long supported new sanctions on those involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and their support for terrorism,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking members of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Friday. “Iran’s recent ballistic missile test—in clear violation of international law—certainly deserves today’s response.”
Engel is one of many Democrats who opposed Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump has repeatedly criticized.
Trump and his administration are using notably harsher rhetoric to talk about Iran.
Trump has tweeted about Iran multiple times since Sunday’s test, saying that he won’t be as “kind” to the Iranians as Obama and that Iran was “on notice.”
National Security Advisor Michael Flynn also said Iran was “on notice” after the test.
At the same briefing Wednesday, Flynn also said the ballistic missile launch was in “defiance” of a United Nations Security Council resolution.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which was passed in July 2015 in support of the nuclear deal, says that, “Iran is called upon 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 language has hindered a U.N. response, since supporters of Iran, such as Russia, argue the tests aren’t a violation because the resolution is a “call,” not a “ban.” For the same reason, the Obama administration also consistently avoided saying outright that the tests violated the resolution, saying instead they “violated the intent.”
Iran also contends the launches don’t violate the resolution because the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons.
Trump included Iran among seven Muslim majority countries from which travel to the United States is temporarily banned. The inclusion prompted Iran to pledge a reciprocal ban on travel from the United States.
Iran has also vowed to continue with its missile tests regardless of Trump’s rhetoric.
“We will never use our weapons against anyone, except in self-defense,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zharif tweeted Friday, prior to the announcement of sanctions. “Let us see if any of those who complain can make the same statement.”
Indeed, Matthew McInnis, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said sanctions alone probably won’t be enough to stop Iran’s missile program, though they will hopefully have some positive effect.
“Eventually there will need to be some further pressure, potentially including threats of force,” he said. “The ballistic missile program is so critical to the regime that it will take a very significant amount of pressure on them to seriously consider stopping the program.”
As an example of the type of threat, McInnis said the United States could threaten to shoot down Iranian missiles.
Shooting down a missile would be an act of war, said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and author of “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.”
Parsi expressed alarm at Trump’s handling of the situation, calling it “blind escalation.” He said he expects Iran to respond in some way to Trump, at which point Trump will either have to make good on his promises or look weak on foreign policy.
“What’s their mechanism to dial this down,” Parsi said. “They don’t really have much options, so why make the threat. If you want to be strong on foreign policy, you don’t make threats you can’t act on.”
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