US unveils new Iran sanctions after effort to reimpose UN penalties is rejected by allies

(CNN) — The Trump administration imposed a range of sanctions and restrictions on Iranian and Iranian-linked officials and entities on Monday after an effort over the weekend to reimpose UN sanctions on Tehran was largely rejected.

Some of those sanctions — including against the Iranian Ministry of Defense and embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro — were taken under a new executive order issued Monday aimed at deterring conventional arms transfers to Iran. A UN embargo on those transfers is due to expire in October under the Iran nuclear deal, although experts note that there are other restrictions in place to restrain sales to Tehran.

“My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran,” President Donald Trump said in a statement Monday. “My Administration will use every tool at our disposal to stop Iran’s nuclear, ballistic missile, and conventional weapons pursuits.”

“The UN arms embargo on Iran is now re-imposed indefinitely, and we will ensure that it remains in place until Iran changes its behavior,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement despite the fact that the US failed to pass a resolution in the UN to extend that embargo. “The new Executive Order gives us the tools to hold accountable actors who seek to evade the embargo.”

The new executive order was issued just days after the US said it unilaterally reimposed UN sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the Iran nuclear deal. That effort was largely rejected by other members of the UN Security Council, who say that because the Trump administration pulled out of that agreement, they do not have the legal authority to trigger those snapback sanctions.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the “executive order will further disrupt Iranian efforts to import and proliferate conventional weapons, helping protect US forces, our allies and partners, and civilian populations, until Iran complies with international norms.”

“We encourage Tehran to cease its malign activities throughout the region and to act like a normal country. But we are also prepared to respond to Iranian aggression,” he said. “Our commanders have the authorities and resources they need to protect their troops and to prepare for any contingencies, and we continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior.”

A total of 27 entities and individuals that the administration say are “connected to Iran’s proliferation networks” were hit with sanctions or export control restrictions on Monday.

Eric Brewer, deputy director and senior fellow with the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNN that “so far, this is really all for show.”

“It looks like a lot of the new designations are individuals, sub-organizations, etc. of previously sanctioned entities. Also, these sanctions could have been done under existing executive orders without snapback,” he said.

As Barbara Slavin, the director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told CNN last week, “it is still illegal under US law for American companies to sell arms to Iran. There is a European arms embargo, which will continue until 2023.”

“The rest of the world will wait for US presidential elections and then make its decision about whether or not to sell weapons to Iran,” Slavin said.

US Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliot Abrams told reporters Monday that “people who violate these sanctions will be investigated by the United States, and if we have the facts, then the provisions of all of these sanctions will be put into effect.”

“Just to give you an example, if a European Bank were to finance an arms sale to Iran or by Iran, absolutely it would be sanctioned,” he said.

In a statement this weekend, the foreign ministers of the E3 — France, Germany, and the UK — noted that the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and “(c)onsequently, the purported notification under paragraph 11 of UNSCR 2231 (year 2015), received from the United States of America and circulated to the UN Security Council Members, is incapable of having legal effect.”

“It flows from this, that any decisions and actions which would be taken based on this procedure or on its possible outcome would also be incapable of having any legal effect,” the E3 statement said.

Nonetheless, Trump administration officials reiterated Monday that they expect security council members to enforce the sanctions.

“We have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce these sanctions. That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany,” Pompeo said. “We will have every expectation that those nations enforce these sanctions.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the snapback sanctions and all additional sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, saying “it had hoped that these sanctions would bring our population to our knees. It didn’t.”