The Trump administration’s reinstatement and expansion of sanctions against Iran is a “historic” moment for Israel and the world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
He spoke as the US restored and strengthened the sanctions it had lifted under a 2015 international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, from which Washington withdrew in May at US President Donald Trump’s behest.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in an interview with Fox Business Network that more sanctions would be coming, but gave no details.
It was a moment of victory for the premier, who has long argued that stiff economic sanctions (and not the Iranian deal) is the most effective strategy in halting Tehran’s nuclear program and support for global terrorism.
“This is a great day for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu told the Likud faction in the Knesset. “This is a great day for the people of Israel. This is a great day for the future of Israel. You know that for many years I have devoted my time and energy to the war against the Iranian threat. In this matter I went almost against the whole world. Today we see the results of this long and continuous struggle.”
Netanyahu called Monday a historic day “on which the United States, led by President Trump, imposed the most severe sanctions
on Iran, the most severe sanctions imposed on Iran since the beginning of the effort to stop its aggression.”
He then thanked the Trunp “for a courageous, determined and important decision,” adding, “I think that this contributes to stability, security and peace. True, there can be more bumps along the way, but we must approach this very aggressively and from strength, also morally, economically and vis-à-vis security.”
The US is betting that economic pressure will force Iran to change its tune and agree to a new, much more restrictive nuclear deal than the one reached in 2015 between Tehran and the six world powers.
The sanctions intensify a campaign led by President Trump that will force Iran to further limit its nuclear work and halt its ballistic missile program, as well as end its support for its proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told USA Today that Tehran would consider diplomatic talks with the US if Washington changed its “approach” and would be willing to discuss the nuclear deal. He did not elaborate.
Tehran has pledged to bust US sanctions and continue its global trade.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters, “The Iranian regime has a choice: it can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble.”
He added: “We hope a new agreement with Iran is possible. Rest assured, Iran will never come close to getting a nuclear weapon on President Trump’s watch.”
The sanctions target Iran’s oil, banking and industrial sectors. Their goal is to force Iran’s major customers to stop buying its oil. However, the US has given temporary exceptions to eight importers – China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea – allowing them to keep buying from Iran.
More than 20 nations have already cut their oil imports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than one million barrels per day, Pompeo said.
Trump said he wants to impose sanctions on Iran's oil gradually, citing concerns about shocking energy markets and causing global price spikes.
"With the oil, it's very interesting. We have the toughest sanctions ever imposed, but on oil we want to go a little bit slower because I don't want to drive (up) the oil prices in the world," he told reporters before flying to a campaign event. "This has nothing to do with Iran... I could get the Iran oil down to zero immediately but it would cause a shock to the market. I don't want to lift oil prices,” Trump said.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, “Today we sanctioned more than 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels. Over 300 of those sanctions are new targets. In addition, we are re-listing hundreds of individuals and entities that were previously sanctioned, granted sanctions relief under” the Iran deal.
The sanctions prohibit countries from conducting business with 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 persons and vessels in its shipping sector, Tehran’s national airline, Iran Air, and more than 65 of its aircraft, the US Treasury said.
Trade with Iran in the fields of humanitarian goods, such as food and pharmaceuticals can continue, but measures imposed on banks as well as trade restrictions could make such items more expensive.
In order to be the most effective, these stiff sanctions need global support, including from the other five world powers who signed the 2015 deal and have remained bound by it. This includes China, Russia, Germany, France and the UK.
China, a major oil buyer said it regretted the move. The EU, France, Germany and the UK said they would seek to protect European companies doing legitimate business with Tehran.
The United Arab Emirates, however, spoke in defense of Trump and posted a message on the website of their embassy in Washington.
“The UAE will continue to work closely with the US, regional allies, and other responsible nations to apply all the tools of diplomacy and statecraft to hold Iran accountable for its destabilizing activities in the Middle East and beyond,” the UAE said.
In Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the results of initial US sanctions were already evident and the ones imposed Monday would be even more effective.
“The second wave of sanctions, especially the sanctions imposed on the SWIFT, the banking clearing system used by the Iranian regime, will add a very severe blow to Iran’s terrorist regime,” Netanyahu said.
“I believed that sanctions must include this element of credit clearance. I raised this several times, even during my last meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and I am pleased that the US has decided to include this component, the credit component,” Netanyahu explained.
The Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service said it is suspending a few unspecified Iranian banks’ access to their messaging systems in the interest of the stability and integrity of the global financial system.
In a brief statement, SWIFT made no mention of US sanctions coming back into effect. The SWIFT statement said suspending the Iranian banks access to the messaging system was a “regrettable” step, but was “taken in the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system.”
SWIFT’s decision not to mention the resumption of US sanctions likely reflects the fact that it is caught between two contrary regulatory demands.
The US government has told SWIFT that it is expected to comply with US sanctions and it could face sanctions if it fails to do so. On the other hand, SWIFT is barred from doing so under the EU’s so-called blocking statute, which could subject it to European penalties for complying with US law.
Iran said it has taken necessary banking measures to continue trade with its partners after the US reimposed sanctions on Tehran’s energy and financial sectors, Iranian state TV quoted the head of the country’s Central Bank Abdolnaser Hemmati as saying.
“We have been in talks with our trade partners and all the necessary actions have been taken for Iran’s interactions to continue,” Hemmati said. “We were expecting these sanctions, so we had plans in place for them and beyond [and] considering the possibility of banks being disconnected from SWIFT, we have considered alternatives to replace it.”
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