US imposes financial sanctions on Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a string of military chiefs. Iran's ambassador to the UN says the sanctions showed that Washington does not respect international law.

US President Donald Trump signs an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, US  on June 24, 2019.
US President Donald Trump signs an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, US on June 24, 2019. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order that would impose fresh sanctions on Iran, amid increased tensions between the long-time foes.

Trump initially told reporters the sanctions, which will target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office, were in response to Tehran's downing of a US drone last week. Tehran has said the drone was flying in its airspace, which Washington has denied.

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

The sanctions are aimed at denying Iran’s leadership access to financial resources, blocking them from using the United States financial system or having access to any assets in the United States.

"Anybody who conducts significant transactions with these sanctioned individuals may be exposed to sanctions themselves," the White House said.

Trump said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone.

"We call on the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, change its destructive behaviour, respect the rights of its people, and return in good faith to the negotiating table," Trump said in a statement issued along with the text of the executive order.

The US has also blamed Iran for attacks earlier this month on two oil tankers at the entrance of the Gulf of Oman. Iran, in turn, has denied that it is to blame.

Iran rules out talks

Iran's ambassador to the UN said on Monday the latest US sanctions against Iran showed that Washington does not respect international law and called for dialogue on regional security.

The US decision to impose more sanctions is another indication that the United States "has no respect for international law and order," Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told reporters at the UN.

Ravanchi called the current situation "very dangerous" and said the United States should de-escalate tensions by stopping "its military adventurism" in the region, withdrawing its "armada" and moving away from "economic warfare against the Iranian people."

He spoke with reporters while the UN Security Council held closed consultations on the rising tensions in the Gulf between the US and Iran.

Ravanchi said US-Iran talks are impossible under current conditions, saying that "you cannot start a dialogue with someone who is threatening, who is intimidating you."

Zarif says 'B-Team' wants war

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a tweet, said hawkish politicians close to Trump were thirsty for war rather than diplomacy.

"@realDonaldTrump is 100% right that the US military has no business in the Persian Gulf. Removal of its forces is fully in line with interests of US and the world. But it's now clear that the #B_Team is not concerned with US interests‚ they despise diplomacy, and thirst for war," he tweeted.

Zarif has in the past said that a so-called "B-team" including Trump's national security advisor John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk, and conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could goad Trump into conflict with Tehran.

TRT World's Franck Ucciardo has more.

Sanctions will target Iran FM

Later on the day, the US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the expanded sanctions will also blacklist Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and block "billions" more in Iranian assets.

Mnuchin told reporters Zarif would be added to an economic sanctions list "later this week," adding that eight top military commanders from Iran's Revolutionary Guards have now also been blacklisted.

Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Tehran since last year when the US withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for easing of sanctions. 

Trump's administration has said the deal struck under his predecessor President Barack Obama did not do enough.

Trump has said he would be open to talks with Iranian leaders, but Tehran has rejected such an offer unless Washington drops the sanctions.

Pompeo in Saudi Arabia for Iran talks

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with the Saudi king and crown prince.

Pompeo, who met Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, described Saudi Arabia and the UAE as "two great allies in the challenge that Iran presents."

"We'll be talking with them about how to make sure that we are all strategically aligned and how we can build out a global coalition," Pompeo said.

US prepared to negotiate with Iran

Pompeo's stops in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi were hastily arranged late last week as additions to a trip to India from where he will join President Donald Trump in Japan and South Korea.

But they were not announced until immediately before his departure in a sign of fast-moving and unpredictable developments.

But even as Pompeo delivered his tough talk, he echoed Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in saying the US is prepared to negotiate with Iran, without preconditions, in a bid to ease tensions. 

The same comments came from US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook who visited Oman and was headed to Europe to explain US policy to allies. 

He told European reporters on a phone call ahead of his arrival that Trump was willing to sit down with Iran, but Iran must do a deal before sanctions could be lifted.

Iran could "come to the table or watch its economy crumble," he said.

"I think the question people should be asking is ... why Iran continues to reject diplomacy," he added.

TRT World 's Kate Fisher brings more from Washington DC.

Britain warns of accidental war

Britain does not think either the United States or Iran want a war but is very concerned an accidental war could be triggered, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday.

"We are very concerned: we don't think either side wants a war, but we are very concerned that we could get into an accidental war and we are doing everything we can to ratchet things down," Hunt told BBC radio.

Hunt said Britain had been closely in touch with the United States over the "very dangerous situation in the Gulf."

"We have been doing everything we can to de-escalate the situation," Hunt said

TRT World spoke to Nader Hashemi of the University of Denver for his take on the issue. 

Back and forth

It was a week of topsy-turvy pronouncements on US policy toward Iran that careened between the bellicose, the conciliatory and back again after Iran shot down the US military drone and boasted it would not bow to Washington's pressure.

Iran's naval chief said on Monday that Tehran is capable of shooting down other US drones.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency carried Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi's warning made during a meeting with a group of defence officials.

Khanzadi says Iran can always deliver another "crushing response ... and the enemy knows it."

Trump initially said Iran had made a "very big mistake" and that it was "hard to believe" that shooting down the drone on Thursday was not intentional.

He later said he thought it was an unintentional act carried out by a "loose and stupid" Iranian and called off retaliatory military strikes against Iran. Trump said he backed away from the planned strikes after learning that about 150 people would be killed, but he said the military option remained.

On Saturday, Trump reversed himself and claimed that Iran had acted "knowingly."

But Trump also said over the weekend that he appreciated Iran's decision to not shoot down a manned US plane, and he opined about eventually becoming Iran's "best friend" if Tehran ultimately agrees to abandon its drive to build nuclear weapons and he helps the country turn around its crippled economy.

Then Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, stepped in on Sunday with a blunt warning from Jerusalem, where he was travelling. 

Bolton said Iran should not "mistake US prudence and discretion for weakness."

A longtime Iran hawk, Bolton emphasised that the US reserved the right to attack at a later point.

"No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East. As President Trump said on Friday our military is rebuilt, new and ready to go," Bolton said during an appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a longtime and outspoken Iran critic.

US attack unsuccessful – Iran

The downing of the unmanned aircraft marked a new high in the rising tensions between the United States and Iran. The Trump administration has vowed to combine a "maximum pressure" campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

US military cyber forces on Thursday launched a strike against Iranian military computer systems, according to US officials. The cyber attacks disabled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, the officials said.

But, Iran's telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said on Monday, the US cyberattacks were not successful.

Throughout the recent crisis, Trump has wavered between bellicose language and actions toward Iran and a more accommodating tone, including a plea for negotiations.

Iran has said it is not interested in a dialogue with Trump. His administration is aiming to cripple Iran's economy and force policy changes by reimposing sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports.

'Interventionist military presence'

On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States' "interventionist military presence" for fanning the flames. He was quoted by the official IRNA news agency. 

Shortly thereafter, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launched an attack against an airport in southern Saudi Arabia, killing one person and wounding 21 others, according to the Saudi military.

Such attacks have been cited by Saudi and US officials as examples of Iran's "malign behaviour" in the Middle East. 

Pompeo, who addressed reporters from the tarmac before he boarded his plane in Washington, declared the goal of his talks with the Saudi kingdom and the UAE is to deny Iran "the resources to foment terror, to build out their nuclear weapon system, to build out their missile program."

"We are going to deny them the resources they need to do that, thereby keep American interests and American people safe all around the world," said Pompeo, who was due to arrive in the region.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies