The U.S. clash with Iran escalated anew Monday, with the Trump administration vowing to use America’s global economic reach to reimpose sweeping U.N. sanctions aimed at blocking Tehran’s nuclear programs, while Iran said an isolated and spurned Washington was taking “irresponsible” steps without any backing from the international community.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wagged his finger at the screen as he scolded the White House during a Council on Foreign Relations webinar, claiming the Trump administration is violating international law and insisting Iran would not “renegotiate” a deal that most of the world’s major powers — including America’s European allies — still support.
While Mr. Zarif taunted the U.S., President Trump issued an executive order designed to implement a wide slate of U.N. “snapback” sanctions against Iran, including a ban on military imports and exports, that were due to be lifted under terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic republic.
“My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “The United States will not allow the Iranian regime to further advance capabilities to directly threaten and terrorize the rest of the world.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed the executive order by telling reporters at the State Department that the administration was imposing penalties on more than two dozen Iranian individuals and institutions and was specifically targeting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government for bolstering economic ties with Iran in recent years.
Arguing that the U.S. has the right to demand the snapback measures and the U.N. has a duty to enforce them, Mr. Pompeo argued that “the country that’s isolated today is not the United States but rather Iran.”
Officials said the sanctions will freeze assets in U.S. states or banking systems, bar Americans from doing business with sanctioned people and, perhaps most important, open up foreign governments, companies and individuals to U.S. penalties if they engage in any transactions with the Iranians.
But France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia, the other key players in the 2015 deal, said they won’t honor the U.S. actions because Mr. Trump lost his right to weigh in when he took the U.S. out of the deal unilaterally in 2018.
The Trump administration announced over the weekend that the U.S. had officially triggered a “snapback” provision in the Iran nuclear deal to reimpose U.N. sanctions that had been eased when the deal was inked in 2015. Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programs in exchange for the eventual lifting of international economic and security sanctions.
Mr. Trump said Iran has repeatedly violated the 2015 deal by carrying out ballistic missile tests, supporting terrorism across the Middle East and continuing to enrich atomic material needed for a nuclear bombs beyond the limits set in the accord. The administration asserted Monday that Tehran has likely violated the U.N. weapons purchasing ban.
“For nearly two years, the corrupt Iranian and Venezuelan regimes have flouted the U.N. arms embargo,” said Mr. Pompeo, who was joined at the State Department by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
Caracas and Tehran have “exchange[d] defense delegations and have spent significant resources to develop plans, which likely have progressed to include arms sales,” Mr. Pompeo said.
“No matter who you are, if you violate the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions,” he said. “Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide.”
There was no sign that the formal U.S. announcement will change the global dynamic toward Iran.
Nearly all of the targets U.S. officials identified — including the Iranian Defense Ministry, its procurement arm, Iran’s atomic energy agency, several Iranian scientists and Mr. Maduro — are already subject to U.S. sanctions.
Britain, Germany and France, all of which have resisted Mr. Trump’s efforts to end the deal, indicated that they are openly siding with China and Russia on the snapback issue.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, citing an overwhelming vote against Washington in the Security Council last month, said over the weekend that he would take no action to support the U.S. move.
Russian Deputy Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said in a Twitter post that it was “very painful to see how a great country humiliates itself like this, opposes in its obstinate delirium other members of U.N. Security Council.”
Still, Mr. Pompeo asserted that all U.N. member nations should “fully comply” with the reimposed sanctions.
“That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany,” he said. “We will have every expectation that those nations enforce these sanctions.”
But the European nations stood together in saying the sanctions are illegitimate. “It flows from this that any decisions and actions which would be taken based on this procedure or on its possible outcome would also be incapable of having any legal effect,” said the vaguely worded statement signed by British, German and French officials.
The Trump administration’s moves, meanwhile, are ratcheting up tension with Tehran ahead of the U.S. presidential election. Mr. Trump has accused Tehran of favoring his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, but Mr. Zarif said Iran would not renegotiate the 2015 deal even if Mr. Biden wins the White House.
Mr. Biden has said he will attempt to move quickly to bring the U.S. back into the 2015 nuclear deal.
The Trump administration has been betting in part that the agreement will be so badly damaged that Iran itself will repudiate it, but the head of Iran’s nuclear agency said Monday that Tehran believes the accord is worth preserving.
The Associated Press reported that Ali Akbar Salehi told delegates at a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna that the deal has been “caught in a quasi-stalemate situation” since the U.S. withdrawal.
Mr. Zarif said Washington “must come back to be a lawful member of the international community, start implementing its obligations and then talk about the rest of the deal.”
Mr. Esper called on Iran to “act like a normal country” and said the Pentagon was “ready to respond to future Iranian aggression.”
How far the U.S. military will go to enforce sanctions such as the arms sale embargo on the ground is still uncertain.
“We continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” Mr. Esper said. “In doing so, we will protect our people and our interests and maintain the security of like-minded nations across the region.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.