WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced new sanctions against Iran on Monday that he said would deny the regime's leaders access to financial instruments.
"Today’s action follows a series of aggressive behaviors by the Iranian regime in recent weeks, including shooting down of U.S. drones," Trump said at the White House before signing an executive order to implement the penalties.
Trump said the order would deny Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and "those closely affiliated with him" access to certain financial resources.
The measures will block transactions involving any property or other assets Iran's leaders hold in the USA, the White House said.
It's not clear how much of an impact the sanctions will have.
"The practical implications seem to be fairly limited," said Ariane Tabatabai, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corp. and expert on the Middle East. "I'm seeing this as more of a political statement by the administration, a move that is very symbolic and that is designed to show that the United States is not willing to sit back and watch Iran as it escalates in the region."
Many of the Iranian individuals and entities named in Monday's announcement are on other Trump administration sanctions lists, Tabatabai said. "Not to mention, many of them are cut off from the U.S. financial system" and don’t travel to the USA or even outside Iran, she said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he could not divulge the value of assets Iran has in the USA.
Mnuchin said the new measures would "lock up literally billions of dollars" in assets. He rejected the suggestion that the latest sanctions were symbolic, saying they would be "highly effective."
In a statement, the Treasury Department said the United States could penalize "any foreign financial institution" that knowingly facilitates a monetary transaction with the newly designated individuals and entities. They risk being "cut off from the U.S. financial system," the Treasury statement said.
The United States has already crippled Iran's economy with a slew of other sanctions.
Mnuchin said that in addition to Iran's supreme leader, the sanctions will target several top officials in Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, an elite branch of the country's military, and five members of Iran's navy. This week, he said, the United States will sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Before Trump's announcement, Zarif blasted the United States for waging economic "terrorism" against Iran. Zarif is a Western-educated diplomat who offers one of the few public diplomatic channels between Iran and the West.
Last fall, the Trump administration reimposed sanctions seeking to drive Iran's oil exports to zero; they penalize any country that purchases Iranian oil, which is the primary source of the regime's revenue. The Treasury Department has targeted Iranian banks, Iran’s shipping sectors and an airline and more than 65 of its aircraft.
Trump said the new sanctions were in the works before Iran shot down a U.S. drone last week. But he suggested they were partially a response to the drone incident and other "hostile conduct" by the regime.
“The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime," Trump said. "His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments.”
Asked whether the sanctions were in response to last week’s drone strike or earlier attacks on oil tankers that the United States blamed on Iran, Mnuchin said, “Some of these were in the works. Some of these are in addition. All of the above.”
The Trump administration said the unmanned drone was flying over international waters; Iran said the drone was flying over its territory.
Trump initially ordered a military response against Iran on Thursday – only to cancel the operation at the last minute.
"I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us – a lot of restraint – and that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future," Trump said Monday.
Trump unveiled the sanctions as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two allies in the Trump administration's efforts to isolate Iran economically and diplomatically. Pompeo's visit was focused in part on responding to a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf. Iran has denied involvement.
"These attacks threaten the international waterways that we all rely on for shipping," the United States said in a joint statement released Monday along with the Saudis, the UAE and the United Kingdom. "Ships and their crews must be allowed to pass through international waters safely."
Trump tweeted Monday that other countries need to shoulder the burden of protecting the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for much of the world's oil shipments.
"China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight, Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise," Trump tweeted. "So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been ... a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there."
Zarif seized on Trump's tweet. Trump "is 100% right that the US military has no business in the Persian Gulf. Removal of its forces is fully in line with interests of US and the world," the foreign minister tweeted Monday.
Tabatabai said Trump's suggestion that China should police the Strait of Hormuz is perplexing, given the strategic threat that China poses to the United States.
She said the escalating U.S. sanctions risk alienating the Iranian people, who suffer as Iran's economy reels from the financial squeeze. That could have long-term implications for how the United States is viewed inside Iran, she said.
"People are having an increasingly hard time buying food, buying medication," Tabatabai said. "Cancer patients, for example, are having a hard time getting treatment."
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Trump imposes new sanctions on Iran as regime accuses US of 'economic' terrorism