- - Sunday, February 5, 2017

President Trump’s ordering of certain mild sanctions against Iran and its friends only stings. Nobody feels much actual pain. But it sends a message to Iran that its testing of ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear weapon violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the agreement it signed with the United States and other nations of the West.

The larger lesson, expressed loud and clear, is that Uncle Sap doesn’t live here anymore. Donald Trump, the new sheriff in town, warned Iran that it is “playing with fire.” He drew a further line under the message with an inevitable tweet: “They don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”

This kind of warning at this time in the relationship wouldn’t have been necessary if Barack Obama, John Kerry and others of the late and unlamented administration had done their jobs. The mullahs in Tehran can’t be blamed for thinking they could get by with just about anything. That’s exactly what Mr. Obama told them, if not by word, certainly by deed. He was so desperate to get a nuclear agreement with Iran that if the mullahs would write it, Mr. Obama would sign on the dotted line. A used-car salesman never had a more willing mark.

The warning by Michael Flynn, the president’s national-security adviser, that the United States was “officially putting Iran on notice,” puzzled only his more-delicate critics in Washington. One complained that Mr. Flynn’s remark didn’t say what he meant, but it was well understood in Tehran. One Iranian commentator, speaking unofficially for the government, said the government’s vow to continue building ballistic missiles is “putting the United States on notice.”

Mr. Flynn’s remarks, filed to a sharp edge, were a departure from the usual buttered putty by diplomats who are trained to speak at length without saying anything. “The ritual of convening a United Nations Security Council in an emergency meeting is not enough,” he 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.”

The Trump administration was careful to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ in its official description of the new sanctions, taking due note that they were imposed under an authority previously issued by Mr. Obama and do not conflict with the nuclear accord, which set out how penalties can be levied against Iran for violations.

But the official language does not soften the prospects of what the mullahs can expect if they don’t behave. “Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” John E. Smith, the acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, warned. “We will continue to actively apply all available tools, including financial sanctions, to address this behavior.”

A group of senators, both Democrats and Republicans, had urged Mr. Trump to give the mullahs in Iran a sharp elbow, if only to let them know that it’s going to be no more Mr. Nice Guy. “The president said we were putting Iran on notice,” said Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Republican. “I’m glad to see he’s as good as his word. Iran’s ayatollahs will stop their provocations only if the United States shows strength and resolve. These sanctions are long overdue, and they’re sending the right message to the regime in Tehran: Cease and desist, immediately.” He might have added, it’s about time.

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