The Americans “despise diplomacy” and the Trump administration has “a thirst for war”. That was the response of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif after US President Donald Trump announced on June 24 that he was introducing new sanctions directly targeting the Iranian leadership.
Both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Zarif will be hit by the fresh round of sanctions, although there is considerable debate over whether the measures will have much more than symbolic value.
US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Trump's executive order introducing the sanctions, which would lock up "billions" of dollars in Iranian assets, was in the pipeline before the Iranians shot down a US drone in the Gulf last week.
The US Treasury department added that eight senior Iranian commanders who "sit atop a bureaucracy that supervises the IRGC's [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’] malicious regional activities" were also being targeted.
It added that Trump's executive order would "deny Iran's leadership access to financial resources and authorises the targeting of persons appointed to certain official or other positions by the Supreme Leader or Supreme Leader's Office", as well as foreign financial institutions that help them conduct transitions.
Khamenei supervises an organisation known as Setad. It confiscated property abandoned after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was gradually transformed into a huge business conglomerate with holdings of about $95bn.
Setad was already under US sanctions. However, Trump has introduced more punishing sanctions, targeting anyone connected to Khamenei. That is expected to include anyone sitting on company boards, or officials in his clerical establishment that shadows the elected government.
The US denies it wants war with Iran or regime change. Iran’s leaders say they believe Washington is lying in that its actions seem designed to topple the regime. The sanctions screw is being tightened more and more to the point where the US hopes Iran will be in such economic distress that it will come to the table to negotiate concessions on items such as its nuclear programme, ballistic missile production and support for militias in conflict zones of the Middle East.
Trump keeps repeating that there is no way he can tolerate Iran developing a nuclear weapon—but nobody has presented any reliable evidence that it is moving in that direction and, indeed, UN inspectors have confirmed it has substantially scaled down its nuclear programme to keep it clearly within civil parameters. That scaling down occurred under the nuclear deal—which Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of in May 2018 saying the accord was not tough or broad enough.
“Iran potentially has a phenomenal future, just like North Korea,” Trump said while signing the executive order for more sanctions. He added that “I know many Iranians living in New York… I have many friends who are Iranians.”
On meeting directly with Khamenei, Trump said: “We can do something very quickly.”
Khamenei has shown no interest in meeting with Trump, even refusing to send him a message via go-betweens, saying he is not a character deserving of such a gesture.
In another development on June 24, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the US has to offer something on top of the nuclear deal struck in 2015 if it wants more concessions from Iran.
If the Trump administration “wants something beyond the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear accord is formally named], it needs to offer something beyond the JCPOA with international guarantees,” Hesameddin Ashena said on Twitter.
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