US to impose ‘snapback’ sanctions on 24 targets linked to Iranian weapons

The US on Monday will sanction more than two dozen people and entities involved in Iran's nuclear, missile and conventional arms programs. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2020

US to impose ‘snapback’ sanctions on 24 targets linked to Iranian weapons

  • The Trump administration suspects Iran of seeking nuclear weapons
  • Monday's punitive steps are the latest in a series seeking to stymie Iran's atomic program

WASHINGTON: The US will impose sanctions on Monday on more than two dozen people and groups involved in Iran’s nuclear, missile, and conventional arms programs.

Iran could have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year and Tehran has resumed long-range missile cooperation with nuclear-armed North Korea, a US official told the Reuters news agency.

The Trump administration argues that Iran is in breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions and that the sanctions should, therefore “snap back.” It also says a ban on trade with Iran in conventional weapons, which expires on Oct. 18, should be renewed.


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The UN Security Council says the US has no right to reimpose sanctions because President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and that the weapons trade ban should be allowed to expire.

Nevertheless, Trump will issue an executive order on Monday to punish those who buy or sell conventional arms to Iran with secondary sanctions, depriving them of access to the US market and financial systems.

The new sanctions put European states, China, and Russia on notice that while they may ignore the US drive to maintain the UN sanctions on Iran, companies in their countries will be penalized for breaching them.

 “Iran is clearly doing everything it can to keep in existence a virtual turnkey capability to get back into the weaponization business at a moment’s notice should it choose to do so,” the US official said.

“Because of Iran’s provocative nuclear escalation, it could have sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of this year. Iran and North Korea have resumed cooperation on a long-range missile project, including the transfer of critical parts.”

The new executive order will define conventional weapons broadly as any item with potential military use, meaning it could cover such things as speed boats that Iran retrofits to harass vessels in international waters. It will also apply to conventional circuit boards that can be used in ballistic missile guidance systems.

More than two dozen sanction targets to be named on Monday include those involved in Iran’s conventional arms, nuclear, and missile programs. 

Among them will be Iran’s “most nefarious arms organizations,” about a dozen senior officials, scientists, and experts from Iran’s nuclear complex, members of a procurement network that supplies military-grade dual-use goods for Iran’s missile program, and several senior officials involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The official said the US wanted to deter foreign companies from dealing with them even if their governments believed it was legal. “You might have a split in some countries where a foreign government may claim that the UN sanctions don’t snap back, but their banks and companies will abide by US sanctions because they want to make sure they are not a future target.”

Iran dismissed the new sanctions as part of Trump’s campaign for re-election to the White House. “The US’ ‘maximum pressure’ show, which includes new propaganda measures almost every week, has clearly failed miserably, and announcing new measures will not change this fact,” its UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said.

“The entire world understands that these are a part of the next US election campaign, and they are ignoring these preposterous claims. It will only make the US more isolated in world affairs.”


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.