Trump reveals latest wave of US sanctions on Iran, including central bank

The United States is imposing sanctions on Iran's national bank, US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 21 September 2019

Trump reveals latest wave of US sanctions on Iran, including central bank

  • US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the bank was Tehran's last source of funds
  • Asked about the possibility of a military response on Iran, Trump said the United States was always prepared

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump on Friday revealed the details of additional sanctions against Iran, which he described as the toughest ever imposed.

The Treasury Department decided to take action against Iran’s central bank after US officials concluded that Tehran was responsible for last weekend’s drone and missile attacks on Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais.

“We have just sanctioned the Iranian national bank,” Trump said during a press conference in the Oval Office. “These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”

When asked about the possibility of a military response, Trump said: “The easiest thing I could do (is) knock out 15 different major things in Iran. I could do it right here in front of you and that would be it. And then you would have a nice, big story to report.

“But I think the strong-person approach, and the thing that does show strength, would be showing a little bit of restraint. Much easier to do it the other way. It’s much easier. And Iran knows if they misbehave, they’re on borrowed time.”

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday strongly condemned the attacks. During a telephone call to King Salman, he said the strikes were a “serious violation” of the Kingdom’s security and stability, and had affected on the global energy market.

According to SPA, Xi pledged China’s firm support for the Kingdom and highlighted the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two nations. 

He said his country would back Saudi efforts to ensure its security and territorial integrity, and expressed the appreciation of China for the measures taken by the Kingdom to maintain the flow of oil exports in the days after the strikes.

King Salman said the “criminal” attacks represented a serious escalation and significant threat to the security and stability of the region and to the world’s oil supplies. He added that the Kingdom will take appropriate measures to protect itself after completing the investigation into the attacks.

Expert analysts said a number of options remain available to Washington in response to the rogue actions of the regime in Tehran.

“The first option, of course, is the military option, with punitive strikes on oil and military infrastructure,” said Dr. Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington. He added that there are other options covering the spectrum of military operations, but the capabilities of Iran must be taken into consideration.

“There is a requirement to understand how violent state actors use drone technology and spread it to terrorist groups and vice versa. This question is important in terms of US options because of the ubiquitous drone issue,” he said.

“The second option is to push for UN support against Iran — condemning Iran for the global significance of the asymmetric attack.”

The third option, Karasik said, would be the deployment of the International Maritime Security Construct, an international surveillance mission the US is assembling involving 55 ships in the waters off Iran.

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international-relations scholar in Riyadh, said the most direct response would be to target Iranian oil refineries and facilities in a tit-for-tat attack.

“Option 2 would be to hit Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps installations and intelligence-gathering facilities inside Iran,” he said.

A third option would be to launch a cyber attack in an attempt to cripple Tehran’s command-and-control systems, according to Al-Shehri.

“This was done in the past when a computer worm called Stuxnet caused substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.

Harvard scholar and Iranian-affairs expert Majid Rafizadeh said that a combined approach by the US is the best option.

“A multi-dimensional policy is required,” he said, the first part of which would be “stepping up the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign” against Tehran.

Increasing economic sanctions has proven inadequate, however, so this would be accompanied by the formation of a coalition of regional and global states to maximize the economic and political pressure on Iran, he added.

Most importantly, he said, these two options must be accompanied by a military response proportionate to Iran’s actions against the Kingdom.

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

Updated 2 min 10 sec ago

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

  • Standoff looms in northern Syrian town of Manbij as Turkish offensive continues
  • Trump's fresh sanctions fail to halt Turkish advance

MANBIJ, Syria: Turkey ignored US sanctions and pressed on with its assault on northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by US forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.
Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of the city of Manbij, a flashpoint where US troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.
US forces announced they had pulled out of the city.
A week after reversing US policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.
But the measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had expected, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy in the Middle East.
The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s Russia-backed government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
Russian-backed Syrian forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.
“We are out of Manbij,” said Col. Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria. Troops “are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria.”
A group of journalists accompanied by Syrian army personnel journeyed into Manbij city where upon their arrival a group of people gathered, waving the Syrian flag and pictures of Assad.
However the reporters left when gunfire was heard and a group of some 10 young men in Kurdish YPG uniforms began breaking cameras and yelling.
Syrian state media said SDF fighters had opened fire on a march organized by the people of Manbij to welcome the army.
Trump’s pullout ends joint US-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal aimed to persuade Turkey not to invade.
Syrian state television broadcast footage of what it said was government troops entering Manbij on Tuesday, under their new deal with the Kurds. A resident inside the city told Reuters the Syrian troops were on its outskirts. Turkey-backed Syrian fighters said they would continue their advance toward Manbij.
A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ain, where a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces reported a fierce battle was taking place.
Trump has defended his reversal of US policy as part of a plan to withdraw the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against Daesh.
The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump’s sanctions were too little, too late.
“His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”
Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as terrorists for their links to separatists in Turkey, and to create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian refugees can be resettled.
The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
The UN Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.
Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Turkey was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
“The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union — and the world — should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington are a victory for President Bashar Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
Trump allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a cease-fire.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table.”
Trump’s sanctions include reimposing steel tariffs and halting talks on a trade deal. But bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is small — around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe. Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to US financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
“The sanctions are not related to banking, so the markets will have a positive perception,” said Cem Tozge, asset management director at Ata Invest.
In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.
European countries have criticized the offensive but have limited their response so far to announcing suspensions of arms sales, although weapons account for only a small fraction of EU-Turkish trade.
Trump said US troops would remain at a small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants” of Daesh. The base on the southern border is hundreds of miles away from the Kurdish area in the north that had previously been the main US theater.