WASHINGTON (Reuters): The United States on Friday ratcheted up pressure on Iran, putting sanctions on 13 individuals and 12 entities days after the White House put Tehran “on notice” over a ballistic missile test.
The move against Iran is the first by the U.S. government since President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20 after vowing during his 2016 campaign to get tough on Tehran.
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.
The measures are similar to actions taken by the Obama administration targeting Iran’s ballistic missile network, but senior Trump administration officials said the action was just the opening shot in plans to go after Tehran.
A senior U.S. administration 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 U.S. Treasury, which listed the individuals and entities affected on its website, said the sanctions were “fully consistent” with U.S. commitments under the nuclear deal clinched between Tehran and six major world powers in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
Some of the entities involved are based in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and China.
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.
The corps is an elite military body that is also powerful in Iranian politics and the economy.
“Today’s action is part of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA,” the Treasury said in a statement.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Friday that the Islamic Republic was unmoved by U.S. threats following its missile test launch and that Tehran would never initiate war.
“Iran unmoved by threats as we derive security from our people. Will never initiate war, but we can only rely on our own means of defense,” Zarif wrote.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted early on Friday that “Iran is playing with fire” and “they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”
Trump said on Thursday that “nothing is off the table” in dealing with Iran following its launch of a ballistic missile. Fellow Republicans in Congress said they would back him up with new sanctions.
Zarif said Iran had no intention to use its military might against any country, except in self-defense.
“We will never use our weapons against anyone, except in self-defense. Let us see if any of those who complain can make the same statement,” he tweeted.
Iran said on Thursday it would not yield to “useless” U.S. threats from “an inexperienced person” over its missile program.