US Sanctions Iranians Even After Recertifying Nuclear Deal

The U.S. slapped sanctions Tuesday on 18 Iranian individuals and groups it accused of supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and weapons deals, a day after it again certified that Iran is complying with the 2015 international accord on its nuclear development program.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East, which undermine regional stability, security, and prosperity,” the State Department said in announcing the sanctions.

The sanctions freeze any assets the blacklisted targets might have in the U.S. and block Americans from doing business with them.

The State Department sanctioned two groups linked to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards it said were involved in ballistic missile research and development, as well as flight test launches. In addition, the U.S. Treasury Department targeted seven entities and five individuals for supporting Iranian military purchases, along with what it described as an “Iran-based transnational criminal organization” and three people linked to the group.

As it issued the sanctions, the U.S. renewed its call for Tehran to release three Americans Iran is holding on what the United States said were “fabricated national-security related charges” and fulfill its promise to return one man, Robert Levinson, who has been missing in Iran for more than a decade.

Trump administration reviewing policy

The State Department said the six-month-old administration of President Donald Trump is continuing to conduct a full review of its Iranian policy. In the meantime, the U.S. said it would “continue to counter Iran’s malign activities in the region.”

The U.S. said Iranian military advances in the Mideast and alliances with insurgent groups in the region “are serving to undercut whatever ‘positive contributions’ to regional and international peace and security were intended to emerge” from the 2015 nuclear pact.

Washington’s sanctions announcement came hours after the Iranian parliament voted overwhelmingly for $520 million in new funding for the country’s missile program and Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations wing, the Quds Force, to combat what it said was Washington’s “adventurism” in the Middle East.

Trump reluctant to recertify

The State Department on Monday notified Congress, as it was required to do, that it was recertifying Iran’s compliance with the international agreement.

U.S. news media accounts, however, portrayed Trump as only reluctantly agreeing to the decision. During his run for the White House, Trump called the Iran nuclear pact supported by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

A senior Trump administration official said that while Iran is technically meeting the terms of the agreement, it is “unquestionably in default of the spirit of the agreement,” adding that the Trump administration is working with its allies to more strictly enforce the deal going forward.

The senior official told reporters the White House believes Iran remains one of the most dangerous governments, and cited as evidence Tehran’s support for terrorism, continuing hostility to Israel, cyber attacks against the United States and numerous human rights abuses.

“These activities seriously undermine the intent of the agreement,” the official said.

Another senior administration official said the Trump administration is working to address flaws in the agreement, of “which there are many,” and criticized enforcement of the deal by the Obama administration.

White House officials emphasized that the administration’s stance toward the nuclear deal remains under review.

“The president has made very clear his desire to fix the many flaws in the deal. … His commitment to fixing those flaws remains steadfast,” one senior official said.

The nuclear deal was agreed to in 2015 following negotiations between Iran and six world powers, the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.

Under terms of the agreement, Iran gained relief from economic sanctions targeting its nuclear activity in response to allegations it was working to develop nuclear weapons.  Iran has said its nuclear program was aimed only at peaceful purposes.

In exchange for the sanctions relief, Iran agreed to take a number of steps to limit its nuclear program and affirmed that it would under no circumstances “seek, develop or acquire nuclear weapons.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday ahead of the U.S. announcement that Iran has received “contradictory signals” from the Trump administration.

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