Trump administration tightens Iran sanctions, Tehran hits back

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists members of the travel pool on board the Air Force One during his trip to Palm Beach, Florida while flying over South Carolina, U.S., February 3, 2017.
PHOTO: Reuters

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration on Friday imposed sanctions on Iran, which it said were just "initial steps" and said Washington would no longer turn a "blind eye" to Iran's hostile actions.

The sanctions on 25 individuals and entities were the opening salvo by President Donald Trump who has vowed a more aggressive policy against Tehran and came two days after the administration had put Iran 'on notice' following a ballistic missile test.

"The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran's provocations that threaten our interests," National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said.

"The days of turning a blind eye to Iran's hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over," Flynn said in a White House statement.

Read Also: Trump puts Iran 'on notice' for firing ballistic missile

Suggesting that more concrete action could follow if Iran does not curb its ballistic missile programme and continues support in regional proxy conflicts, a senior administration official said the latest sanctions were the initial steps in response to Iran's "provocative behaviour".

The administration was "undertaking a larger strategic review" of how it responds to Iran.

Iran denounced the sanctions as illegal and said it would impose legal restrictions on American individuals and entities helping "regional terrorist groups", state TV quoted a Foreign Ministry statement as saying.

Those affected under the sanctions cannot access the US financial system or deal with US companies and are subject to secondary sanctions, meaning foreign companies and individuals are prohibited from dealing with them or risk being blacklisted by the United States.

Chaos at US airports after Trump orders halt on Muslim immigrants

  • President Donald Trump's order for "extreme vetting" of visitors and legal US residents from seven Muslim-majority countries sparked outrage and protests.
  • The new Republican president on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States.
  • He temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other countries.
  • Deportees cross the tarmac after arriving on an immigration flight from the US at the Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Luis Talpa.
  • Immigration lawyers, activists and Democratic politicians reacted furiously, and many worked to help marooned travelers find a way back home.
  • Hundreds of protesters gathered at airports in Dallas, Chicago, New York and elsewhere while inside, anxious family members waited and worried for travelers.
  • The ban affects travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
  • Green card holders will not be allowed back in until they are re-screened.
  • Immigration workers process bags with belongings at an immigration facility after a flight carrying illegal immigrants from the U.S. arrived at the Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Luis Talpa, El Salvado.
  • A deportee gets a snack as she is received at an immigration facility at the Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Luis Talpa, El Salvador.
  • Protestors rally against Muslim immigration ban At San Francisco International Airport.
  • Protestors rally during a demonstration against the new immigration ban issued by President Donald Trump at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City.
  • Protestors rally at a demonstration against the new ban on immigration issued by President Donald Trump at Logan International Airport on January 28, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • A demonstrator chants in celebration during a rally at San Francisco International Airport on January 28, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

NUCLEAR DEAL

The White House said that while the sanctions were a reaction to recent events, they had been under consideration before.

It added that a landmark 2015 deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme was not in the best interest of the United States.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the missile test did not violate the nuclear agreement.

"It's not a direct violation ... I think there is no question that it violates the spirit of that," Spicer said in an interview with MSNBC.

He said the nuclear agreement was a "sweetheart deal" for Iran.

Citing a foreign ministry statement, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said the missile programme is "the undeniable and inalienable right of our nation under international law and the UN charter. Any foreign interference in this regard is a violation of international law."

Read Also: Iran's president calls Trump a political novice over travel ban

The new designations stuck to areas that remain under sanctions even with the 2015 nuclear deal sealed between Iran and world powers in place, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite military body that is powerful in Iranian politics and the economy, and Iran's ballistic missile programme.

Zarif led Iran's delegation at the nuclear negotiations in 2015.

Among those affected by the sanctions were what it said was a Lebanon-based network run by the Revolutionary Guards.

"The list is actually so targeted and comparatively mild, it leads one to surmise that it may have been a set of targets devised by the Obama administration, and was ready to go when Trump came into office," said Adam Smith, former senior advisor to the Director of the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

"As such, the real test for which way the Trump team will go on Iran may well be not this list release but the next one, whenever that occurs," Smith said.

The sanctions' impact will be more symbolic than practical, especially as they do not affect the lifting of broader US and international sanctions that took place under the nuclear deal.

Also, few of the Iranian entities being targeted are likely to have US assets that can be frozen, and US companies, with few exceptions, are barred from doing business with Iran.

Meanwhile, the US moved a Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, close to the Bab al-Mandab Strait off the coast of Yemen to protect waterways from Houthi militia aligned with Iran.

Trump sworn in as 45th US president

  • President Donald Trump assumed power Friday with a fiercely nationalistic vow to put "America first," declaring a new political era after being sworn in as the 45th US head of state.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people stood in the rain-splattered National Mall to see the 70-year-old Republican billionaire take the oath of office and deliver a stridently populist call-to-arms.
  • Former US president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn arrive for the inauguration of President Trump.
  • Former US president Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • Former US President George W. Bush and his wife Laura.
  • Bush put up a struggle with his poncho.
  • American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a donor to the Trump campaign.
  • Senators Bernie Sanders and John McCain.
  • "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land," Trump said, promising an end to business-as-usual in Washington.

    "From this moment on, it's going to be only America First."

  • "Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, DC. And giving it back to you, the people."
  • While the US capital city no longer provides official crowd counts, the turnout was visibly smaller than for Barack Obama's two inaugurations, in 2009 and 2013, with sections of the Mall and bleachers along the parade route left empty.
  • And as the incoming leader rallied his supporters for the swearing-in, throngs of his opponents also converged on Washington.
  • Most of the protests - by an array of anti-racist, anti-war, feminist, LGBT, pro-immigration and marijuana legalization groups - were noisy but peaceful, though sporadic violence marred the day.
  • Between 400 and 500 masked, black-clad protesters carrying anarchist flags smashed windows, lit fires and scuffled with riot police in downtown Washington, blocks from the parade held in Trump's honour, with over 90 people arrested for vandalism.
  • Even the peaceful protesters were intent on spoiling Trump's party - letting out a deafening roar as the presidential limousine known as "The Beast" rolled by on the way to the White House.
  • "Not my president! Not my president!" they yelled, as the pro- Trump crowd in bleachers across the street chanted "USA! USA!".
  • Trump's inauguration caps the improbable rise to power of the Manhattan real estate magnate who has never before held elected office, served in government or in the armed forces.
  • His speech was far from the typical optimistic inaugural address that tries to bridge political divides and lift Americans' gaze up to the horizon.
  • It was a deliberate and striking contrast from the uplifting message of Obama, the outgoing president who was among the dignitaries in attendance.
  • Obama and his wife Michelle departed the Capitol by helicopter moments after the swearing-in ceremony, turning a page on eight years of Democratic leadership in the White House.
  • At a Congressional luncheon afterward, Trump led a standing ovation for his defeated election rival Hillary Clinton, saying he was "honoured" that she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, attended his inauguration.
  • When Trump descended the escalators of his glitzy New York tower in June 2015, his run for office was roundly dismissed and even mocked.
  • Trump and First Lady Melania Trump dance during the Armed Forces ball at the National Building Museum.
  • Trump, the first lady Melania Trump, US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen cut a cake after dancing at the Armed Services ball.

DESIGNATIONS

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Friday expressed understanding over the sanctions, but warned against conflating Sunday's test with the nuclear deal.

Earlier on Friday, Trump tweeted: "Iran is playing with fire".

US Senator Mark Warner expressed support for the sanctions, adding: "I urge the Administration to bring clarity to their overall strategy towards Iran, and to refrain from ambiguous rhetoric - or provocative tweets - that will exacerbate efforts to confront those challenges."

Some of the entities sanctioned by the US Treasury are based in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and China.

Among those affected were companies, individuals and brokers the US Treasury said support a trade network run by Iranian businessman Abdollah Asgharzadeh.

Read Also: Only a third of Americans think Trump's travel ban will make them more safe

Treasury said he supported Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which the United States has said is a subsidiary of an Iranian entity that runs Iran's ballistic missile programme.

Hasan Dehghan Ebrahimi, a Beirut-based official with the Revolutionary Guard's Qods Force, which runs its operations abroad, was put under sanctions for acting on behalf of the Qods Force, Treasury said.

Three Lebanese companies involved in waste collection, pharmaceuticals, and construction were also listed under the sanctions for being owned or controlled by Muhammad Abd-al-Amir Farhat, one of Ebrahimi's employees.

Treasury said he has facilitated millions of dollars in cash transfers to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Two of his employees and a company he manages were also sanctioned.

Treasury said Ebrahimi and his employees used a Lebanon-based network to transfer funds, launder money, and conduct business.

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES