President Trump, warning that U.S. “restraint” has limits, signed an executive order Monday imposing additional economic sanctions on Iran in apparent retaliation for the downing of a U.S. drone last week.
Trump said the new “hard-hitting” sanctions will deny Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other top officials access to financial instruments.
“We will continue to increase pressure on Tehran,” Trump said in an Oval Office signing ceremony attended by Vice President Pence and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Never can Iran have a nuclear weapon.”
“We do not seek conflict with Iran or any other country,” Trump added. “I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future.”
Asked by a reporter whether the new sanctions were a response to Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz last week, Trump said that “you could probably add that into this.” But then he said, “This is something that was going to happen anyway.”
Trump spoke after Iran’s navy chief warned the United States on Monday that Iranian forces could shoot down more surveillance drones if they violate the country’s airspace. Those comments were made as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks with Arab allies in the Persian Gulf.
“The enemy dispatched its most sophisticated . . . and most complicated surveillance aircraft” to spy on Iran, and “everyone saw the downing of the drone,” Iranian Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi said Monday, referring to the U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone shot down by Iran on Thursday.
The incident capped a week of tensions following attacks on two commercial tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on June 13. The United States blamed the tanker attacks on Iran, which has denied involvement.
Khanzadi said the downing of the drone could “always be repeated, and the enemy knows it,” the Tasnim News Agency reported.
The naval commander’s remarks came amid a diplomatic push by the Trump administration to rally regional and other allies around what Pompeo described Sunday as a “global coalition” to confront Iran.
In his Oval Office remarks, Trump said: “I have many friends that are Iranians. It’s very sad what is happening to that country.”
He complained that a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six worlds powers, including the United States, “wasn’t properly done.” He added that Khamenei, the supreme leader, has said “he doesn’t want nuclear weapons,” which Trump called “a great thing to say.” Referring to the prospect of new nuclear negotiations, Trump went on: “If that’s the case, we can do something very quickly.”
In fact, Khamenei has asserted for years that Iran neither needs nor wants nuclear weapons, and he has declared such arms forbidden by Islam. Reflecting that position, the nuclear accord negotiated under the Obama administration says in its first paragraph: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”
In two incidents in May and June that have raised tensions with Iran, six commercial vessels were targeted in attacks near the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway for global oil shipments.
Pompeo met Monday with the Saudi leader, King Salman, “to discuss heightened tensions in the region and the need to promote maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz,” he said on Twitter.
The State Department’s Iran envoy, Brian Hook, was in Oman’s capital, Muscat, for meetings that he also characterized as focused on building a multinational force to protect shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf.
“There have been too many attacks,” he said in a Monday conference call with reporters. “We had tankers go up in flames here very recently, and we could have had a maritime disaster there.” Hook added that he shared declassified intelligence with U.S. allies pointing to Iranian involvement.
He has met with officials in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and was en route to Bahrain as part of the initiative, he said.
Several Arab states in the Persian Gulf have pinned their security on U.S. military prowess in the region.
But Trump lamented Monday on Twitter that the United States was “protecting the shipping lanes” in the strait “for other countries . . . for zero compensation.”
“All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been . . . a dangerous journey,” he said, adding that China and Japan get most of their energy imports through the strait.
“We don’t even need to be there,” Trump said, citing energy production in the United States. “The U.S. request for Iran is very simple — No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!”
Trump said over the weekend that he would speak with Iran without preconditions and that his chief concern was preventing Iran’s government from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Trump last year abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, which set restrictions on the country’s atomic energy program.
Iran said last week that it would boost its stockpile of low-enriched uranium beyond limits prescribed by the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Iranian officials said that the other signatories to the deal, including the European Union, had failed to maintain the economic benefits allotted to Iran under the pact.
The near-total embargo imposed by the United States on Iranian industries has prompted European and international firms to withdraw investments, including in the nation’s lucrative oil and gas sectors.
Trump last week said that he authorized a military strike against Iran in response to the downing of the drone but aborted the mission at the last minute to avoid Iranian casualties.
His singular focus on the nuclear issue appeared at odds with his administration’s “maximum-pressure campaign,” which seeks to roll back Iranian influence in the region and persuade it give up its ballistic missile program and support for proxy forces in places such as Iraq and Syria.
Persian Gulf allies see Iran’s ballistic missiles and network of regional proxy forces as a threat to stability in the Middle East and have supported the administration’s aggressive push to compel Iran to give up both.
Critics say the strategy has had the adverse effect of prompting Iran to double down on what it says is a defensive posture in the region.
In his conference call with reporters, Hook said the United States was “looking for a deal [with Iran] that is truly comprehensive” and that addresses “the spectrum of threats to peace and security that Iran represents.”
He said such an agreement would include Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles, regional activities and the detention of dual nationals.
Still, Hook emphasized that “there is currently no back channel operating between the United States government and Iranian government.”
“They know where to find us,” he said.
An adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday that if the United States “wants more than Iran gave” as part of the nuclear deal, then it “has to also give Iran more.”
“War and sanctions are two faces of the same coin,” the adviser, Hesameddin Ashena, said on Twitter. Calling for talks “while adding sanctions and threatening war isn’t acceptable,” he said.
Cunningham reported from Dubai.