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U.S. to impose new sanctions on Iranian banks

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have been growing since President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.
Image: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani chairing a cabinet meeting in the capital Tehran
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani chairing a Cabinet meeting in Tehran in September. Iranian presidency / AFP - Getty Images

The United States has imposed a new round of sanctions targeting Iran’s financial industry as the Trump administration ramps up pressure on Tehran.

The new measures announced Thursday afternoon by the Department of Treasury targeted 18 major Iranian banks, not previously subject to U.S. restrictions. The actions were largely taken under the sweeping authorities of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, allowing the U.S. to take aim at any and all institutions within Iran’s already crippled financial sector.

“Our sanctions programs will continue until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programs,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “Today’s actions will continue to allow for humanitarian transactions to support the Iranian people.”

The Washington Post first reported on the U.S. plan, which aims to shut Iran out of the global financial sector.

Since the U.S. decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal in May of 2018, the reimposed sanctions have had severe consequences for Iran whose currency fell to a new low against the U.S. dollar last month.

Iran’s oil exports sank to a record low in May as the coronavirus pandemic compounded the effect of U.S. sanctions already limiting shipments. Iran is also suffering under a severe shortage of supplies to fight the COVID-19 virus with 3,000 new COVID-19 cases every day, and 27,000 dead so far.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif accused the United States of undertaking a “crime against a humanity” and warned there would be consequences.

"Amid Covid19 pandemic, U.S. regime wants to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food & medicine. Iranians WILL survive this latest of cruelties. But conspiring to starve a population is a crime against humanity. Culprits & enablers—who block our money—WILL face justice," he tweeted.

The new measures come after the U.S. last month triggered a “snapback” of virtually all United Nations sanctions on Iran, even as it faced isolation on the world stage after other major powers rejected the unilateral move by Washington.

As part of that resumption, the U.S. slapped measures targeting Iran's defense ministry and others involved in its weapons and nuclear programs.

The same week, Washington also blacklisted several Iranian officials and entities over alleged gross violations of human rights, including placing sanctions on a judge it said was involved in the case of an Iranian wrestler sentenced to death.

Trump's hard-line stance on Iran has been one of the hallmarks of his presidency, with tensions between Washington and Tehran growing since he unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of a nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and began reimposing sanctions.

The 2015 deal struck by President Barack Obama had Tehran limiting its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. But the Trump administration has maintained the agreement did little to constrain Iran’s other activities in the region that threatened American security interests.

Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the U.S. of inflicting $150 billion worth of damage on Iran due to sanctions since 2018.

The government has consistently denied it is developing nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Relations between the U.S. and Iran took another hit when a powerful Iranian military leader was killed in a U.S. airstrike in January. In the aftermath of the strike, Iran said it was ending its commitment to limiting enrichment of uranium as part of the nuclear deal.

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Last month, the U.S. said it planned to impose sanctions on those who violate a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which Washington said will now stay in place instead of expiring in October, shortly before the Nov. 3 election, as agreed under the nuclear deal.

The U.N. Security Council resoundingly defeated a U.S. resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo in August.

The toll of the U.S. sanctions has crippled the Iranian economy, and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the country’s economic problems. Its currency fell to a new low against the U.S. dollar last month.

Iran’s oil exports sank to a record low in May as the pandemic compounded the impact of U.S. sanctions already limiting shipments.