US vows ‘strongest sanctions in history’ on Iran

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Media captionUS vows ‘unprecedented pressure on Iran’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US is imposing the “strongest sanctions in history” on Iran.

In a speech in Washington, America’s top diplomat said Iran would be “battling to keep its economy alive” after the sanctions took effect.

He said he would work closely with the Pentagon and regional allies “to deter any Iranian aggression”.

US vows ‘strongest sanctions in history’ on Iran
US vows ‘strongest sanctions in history’ on Iran

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump took the US out of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

In his first major foreign policy speech as secretary of state, Mr Pompeo unveiled the administration’s “Plan B” for countering the Islamic Republic on Monday.

He laid out 12 conditions for any “new deal” with Iran, including the withdrawal of its forces from Syria and an end to its support for rebels in Yemen.

Others include Tehran:

  • Giving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of its former nuclear military programme, and giving up such work forever
  • Ending its “threatening behaviour” towards its neighbours, including “its threats to destroy Israel, and its firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia and the UAE”
  • Releasing all US citizens, and those of US partners and allies, “detained on spurious charges or missing in Iran”

Mr Pompeo said relief from sanctions would only come when Washington had seen a real change in Iran’s policies.

“We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime,” he said. “The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness.

“Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”

A diplomatic smokescreen?

Analysis by Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent

This then is the US “Plan B” for Iran – to step up the sanctions pressure, to force the Tehran government into a new diplomatic deal. It would need to accept broader constraints not just on its nuclear activities but also on its missile programme and wider behaviour in the region.

It is certainly tough but may be totally unrealistic. For sanctions to work they must be comprehensive. The pressure that brought about the JCPOA deal that President Trump has now abandoned was long-standing and widely supported. Now Washington’s European allies want to stick with the existing deal. Russia, China and India are unlikely to bow to US pressure.

Compelling allies and other countries to abandon trade with Iran risks damaging a whole series of wider diplomatic relationships.

Critics may charge that this “policy” is impossible – a diplomatic smokescreen intended to cloak a policy whose fundamental goal is regime change in Iran.

Following President Trump’s decision two weeks ago to withdraw the US from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, the US Treasury said economic sanctions would not be re-imposed on Tehran immediately but would be subject to three-month and six-month wind-down periods.

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Media captionIran nuclear deal: Trump announces US pull-out

Israel praised the Trump administration’s decision but the decision to pull out of the pact was roundly criticised by fellow signatories, including France, Germany, the UK and Russia.

All of the above signatories pledged to honour their commitments under the deal.

Some of Europe’s biggest firms had rushed to do business with Iran after the nuclear deal took effect, and now find themselves forced to choose between investing there or trading with the US.

Some of the biggest contracts at risk include

  • French energy giant Total’s deal, worth up to $5bn, signed to help Iran develop the world’s largest gas field. Total now plans to unwind those operations by November unless the US grants it a waiver
  • Norwegian firm Saga Energy’s $3bn deal to build solar power plants
  • An Airbus deal to sell 100 jets to IranAir

Mr Pompeo has made clear he expects the backing of his allies in Europe but also called for support from “Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, India, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea [and] the UAE”.

“We welcome any nation which is sick and tired of the nuclear threats, the terrorism, the missile proliferation and the brutality of a regime at peace with inflicting chaos on innocent people,” he said.

What was agreed under the 2015 deal?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) saw Iran agree to limit the size of its stockpile of enriched uranium – which is used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons – for 15 years and the number of centrifuges installed to enrich uranium for 10 years.

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Media captionWhat is the Iran nuclear deal?

Iran also agreed to modify a heavy water facility so it could not produce plutonium suitable for a bomb.

In return, sanctions imposed by the UN, US and EU that had crippled Iran’s economy were lifted.

The deal was agreed between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, UK, France, China and Russia – plus Germany.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, and its compliance with the deal has been verified by the IAEA.

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