As was previewed by Trump two days earlier, moments ago Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that the Trump administration is imposing new sanctions on Iran, specifically targeting the country’s metals exports and eight senior leaders. The Treasury said the actions Friday target the 13 largest steel and iron manufacturers in Iran and top copper and aluminum producers.
With the latest sanctions targeting steel, aluminum, copper and iron as well as sectors of the economy such as construction, manufacturing, textiles and mining, it now appears that virtually the entire Iranian economy is off-limits to any nation that has diplomatic ties with the US. As a reminder, Iran’s critical oil exports and shipping industries were already sanctioned in 2019, sending the economy in turmoil as most of the country’s oil exports were taken offline with only a handful of countries such as China and India still importing Iranian crude.
The economic pressure from US sanctions has already had a destabilizing effect on Iran’s economy, sending the currency tumbling and leading to sporadic anti-government protests across the nation.
In this vein, the new measures are aimed at cracking down on Iran’s few remaining sources of export revenue and squeezing the nation’s economy to force its leaders back into negotiations for a new nuclear agreement.
“We want Iran to simply behave like a normal nation,” Pompeo said during a media briefing at the White House.
The move to expand penalties on the Islamic Republic followed one day after President Trump said Iran would be sanctioned “immediately” for the airstrikes against two U.S. military installations in Iraq, which resulted in no casualties.
As Bloomberg notes, “the administration first prepared the sanctions in December, before tensions escalated between the U.S. and Iran, leading to the Jan. 2 U.S. airstrike in Baghdad that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.”
“By cutting off the economics to the regime, we are having an impact,” Mnuchin said.
Separately, Mnuchin also said that the U.S. will issue waivers on sanctions against Iran to allow investigators from the US and other countries to take part in the probe of a Ukrainian jetliner crash in Tehran earlier this week which several western nations have said was likely downed by an Iranian missile shortly after Tehran attacked US air bases in Iraq.
Reiterating that the target of US economic pressure remains Iran’s oil industry, the State and Treasury Departments issued guidance that warns ship insurers, banks, charter companies, port owners, crews and captains that they all face sanctions exposure if they can’t account for the legitimacy of the cargoes they carry. The administration is seeking to close a significant loophole that allows Iran and other nations to avoid sanctions: ship-to-ship transfers of crude oil, refined petroleum and other goods.
Ironically, the biggest client of Iranian oil exports remains China in stark violation of US sanctions, yet despite this clear snub of Washington in the international arena, US and China are expected to sign the Phase One trade deal as early as next Monday.
As for the immediate impact of the sanctions, it is debatable if they will achieve the desired concession by Rouhani to sit down on the negotiating table with Trump; instead a far more likely outcome is that after Iran’s leaders succeeded in placating the population’s thirst for retaliation and vindication after Soleimani’s assassination, which was achieved with Iran’s casualty-free attack on US airbases in Iraq, the angry Iranian population will demand another round of retaliatory escalation, made more likely by the fact that now Tehran’s cash-strapped government has even fewer sources of income, which may explain why risk assets are suddenly sinking.