Trump imposes new sanctions as Iran threatens to down more U.S. drones
UN Security Council condemns recent attacks on oil tankers as threat to international peace and security
U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday imposing 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 U.S. drone last week. Tehran has said the drone was flying in its airspace, which Washington has denied.
"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," he said in a statement from the White House.
Later, Trump said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the order was in the works before last week's downing, but was in response to that as well as to previous Iranian actions in the Gulf.
The United States 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's Foreign Minister Javid Zarif tweeted Monday that the #B_Team — as he refers to U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu — is thirsty for war.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@realDonaldTrump</a> 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 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/B_Team?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#B_Team</a> is not concerned with US interests—they despise diplomacy, and thirst for war.—@JZarif
Iran's ambassador to the UN, meanwhile, is calling the situation "very dangerous" and says the U.S. should de-escalate tensions by stopping its "military adventurism" in the region, withdrawing its "naval armada" and moving away from "economic warfare against the Iranian people."
Majid Takht Ravanchi said the new sanctions are another indication of U.S. hostility against the Iranian people and their leaders.
He spoke with reporters while the UN Security Council held closed consultations on the rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
The council later condemned the attacks on oil tankers in the Middle East, calling them a serious threat to international peace and security.
"The council members urge concerned parties and all countries in the region to exercise maximum restraint and take measures and actions to reduce escalation and end tension," Kuwait's UN ambassador, Mansour Al-Otaibi, said in a statement following the meeting.
Mnuchin said the new executive order signed by Trump will lock up billions of additional dollars in Iranian assets, squeezing the country further.
"These sanctions will deny Iran's leadership access to financial resources, blocking them from using the United States financial system or accessing any assets in the United States," the statement said. "Anybody who conducts significant transactions with these sanctioned individuals may be exposed to sanctions themselves."
Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Tehran since last year, when the United States withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to curb Iran's nuclear program 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.
Iran has decried previous U.S. sanctions, which essentially bar Iran from selling its oil internationally, as "economic terrorism," and warned Monday that its forces wouldn't hesitate to act again and shoot down more U.S. surveillance drones that violate Iranian airspace.
The U.S. denies the drone, valued at more than $100 million US, violated Iranian airspace. Trump said he pulled back from the brink of retaliatory military strikes after learning 150 people would be killed, but that military action remained an option.
Iran's naval commander, Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi, issued a warning to Washington that Tehran is capable of shooting down other American spy drones that violate Iranian airspace. Khanzadi spoke Monday during a meeting with a group of defence officials in Iran.
"We confidently say that the crushing response can always be repeated, and the enemy knows it," Khanzadi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency during a meeting with a group of defence officials.
Pompeo visits Saudi Arabia, U.A.E.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held separate talks with Saudi King Salman and bin Salman in the Saudi port city of Jeddah to discuss the escalation with Iran.
Pompeo did not discuss the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi when the U.S. secretary of state met with Saudi Arabia's king, a senior State Department official told journalists travelling with him in the region.
"It did not" come up, the official said.
The official could not confirm if the case had been raised with the Saudi crown prince, who met with Pompeo later.
From the kingdom, Pompeo travelled to the neighbouring United Arab Emirates — another close U.S. ally — where he is expected to meet bin Zayed.
The regional stops, made on his way to India, may be aimed at reassuring Washington's Sunni Gulf Arab allies that the White House remains committed to maintaining pressure on Shiite Iran following Trump's last-minute about face, which likely raised questions about U.S. willingness to use force against the Islamic Republic.
In what it says are defensive moves, the U.S. has built up its military presence around the Persian Gulf in recent weeks.
Before his departure to the kingdom, Pompeo said he wants to build a global coalition against Iran.
"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, a coalition not only throughout the Gulf states, but in Asia and in Europe, that understands this challenge as it is prepared to push back against the world's largest state sponsor of terror," Pompeo said about Iran.
But even as Pompeo delivered his tough talk, he echoed Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence in saying the U.S. is prepared to negotiate with Iran, without preconditions, in a bid to ease tensions.
"They know precisely how to find us," Pompeo said.
Germany, France and Britain, along with Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear deal.
Following the UN Security Council meeting, the U.K., Germany and France issued a joint statement expressing grave concern at the escalating tensions, and called for "de-escalation and dialogue, with full respect for international rule."
They also expressed their commitment to the nuclear deal which they said "contributes to reducing tensions in the region as well as global nuclear non-proliferation."
With files from The Associated Press and CBC News