Donald Trump on Monday reiterated that he “looks forward” to the day when all sanctions on Iran can be lifted, but that day is not today.
Rather, today is the day when the Trump administration slapped Khamenei himself with sanctions.
“The supreme leader of Iran is the one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime”, Trump said. The move, Trump claims, will deny him “access to key financial resources and support”.
The veracity of that assertion is questionable, at best. This appears to be designed almost solely to garner the maximum amount of media attention. It’s not entirely clear that Trump can squeeze the theocracy any further, something he alluded to on Saturday when he told reporters that “it’s hard to believe” the US can sanction Iran further.
Trump read from the executive order in an almost disinterested fashion. At times he seemed to shrug his shoulders as though he’s aware that this is little more than a symbolic gesture.
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Trump previewed the move on Saturday and Iran’s foreign ministry was somewhat incredulous. “Are there any other sanctions left for the US to impose?” a spokesman asked Monday. “[Trump] knows full well that if pressure and sanctions were the answer, they would have yielded results much earlier.”
Trump went on to lament the plight of the country’s citizens who are obviously suffering mightily as the economy crumbles under the weight of what, at this point, are draconian measures.
As usual, Trump cited unnamed friends of his as proof that he isn’t aiming to punish an entire group of people based solely on ethnicity or country of origin. “I know many of them. I lived in New York”, he said. “I’ve known many Iranians living in New York and they are fantastic people.”
Steve Mnuchin told reporters Treasury will sanction Foreign Minster Javad Zarif “later this week”. In the press conference, Qasem Soleimani got a shoutout.
As you can see, Mnuchin is also targeting eight senior commanders in the IRGC’s Navy, Aerospace, and Ground Forces. Here’s the official release:
Needless to say, this makes the prospect of direct negotiations between Trump and Khamenei even more remote. Whether it increases the odds of escalations is debatable. One imagines Tehran will brush this off as little more than theatrics.
Far more important will be how Europe reacts to the apparently imminent breach of key JCPOA elements, something Germany warned on Monday would be a mistake. “Anything short of Iran sticking to nuclear commitments under JCPOA is unacceptable”, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert remarked.
Earlier this month, during Shinzo Abe’s trip to Iran, Khamenei flatly declined to consider exchanging any “pleasantries” with the US president. “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange”, Khamenei reportedly said. “I do not have any reply for him, now or in the future”.