The Trump administration announced a series of punitive moves Wednesday against Iranian defense officials to send a signal that Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terrorism won’t be tolerated, a senior administration official told The Daily Beast Tuesday.
The U.S. Treasury Department actions will hit two senior Iranian defense officials connected to the ballistic missile program and other Iranian entities, and four suppliers of missile technology based in China.
The State Department was also slated to release a report detailing Iran’s human rights abuses in its prison systems, designed to send a message to Tehran and its supporters that its behavior would not be tolerated.
“Whether it’s imprisoning people arbitrarily, inflicting physical abuse and torture, or executing juvenile offenders, the Iranian regime has for decades committed egregious human rights violations against its own people and foreign nationals, and this pattern of behavior must come to an end,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Ambassador Stuart Jones said in a statement. “This includes the U.S. citizens wrongfully detained or missing in Iran, and we call on Iran to immediately return them to their families.”
The actions come at a tumultuous time for the Trump administration. The White House is engulfed in a series of overlapping scandals—including the passing of classified information to Russian officials and the firing of FBI director James Comey—all while the president gets ready to meet Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, before traveling to Israel and Europe.
Iran is a topic that’s sure to come up at every stop.
“The message is, the Trump administration is not going to give them a pass on the other aspects of their destabilizing behavior just because of the existence of the JCPOA,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to explain Trump administration policy. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—signed by the Obama administration, and nations including China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the European Union, rewards Iran with sanctions relief for stepping away from its nuclear weapons program—but puts no requirements on its behavior beyond that.
The administration is planning to honor the terms of the international nuclear agreement with Iran for up to another four months, the official added. The 120-day waiver on U.S. sanctions against Iran expires Wednesday, requiring the Trump administration to act.
“The message is to address the totality of the Iran problem including support to terrorism, abuses of human rights, and the development of the ballistic missile program,” the official said. “It’s not a get out of jail free card—nor did the Obama administration ever say that it was,” the official added.
The Treasury Department this week also announced action against 10 Syrian individuals including several members of Bashar al-Assad’s family, including the Makhlouf clan which the official says has helped finance the regime, after the State Department this week accused the regime of killing civilians by the thousands and cremating them to hide the evidence.
One of those sanctioned in recent weeks is the brother of Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s infamous Republican Guards—the overseas arm of Iran’s military which helps prop up the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and supply weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“In the past four months, the Trump administration has issued 281 designations against the Assad regime, Iran’s closest ally in the Mideast, and there have been more than 40 new designations connected to ballistic missiles and terrorism, and the Quds Force,” said Mark Dubowitz, an Iran sanctions expert and CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. “They are making Iran hurt and putting international companies on notice that premature business engagement is risky.”
Now-resigned National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had warned that Iran was “on notice” in February after a ballistic missile test, a declaration that sounded like a threat of military action. That’s still on the table, the senior administration official said.
“We have a range of tools at our disposal so these are the ones we are using this week—we have a lot of tools in our kit bag.”