The Trump administration is working on new efforts to "enforce and expand" its maximum pressure campaign on Iran in the wake of increased military threats, including Tehran's launch last week of a spy satellite.
The White House will continue to amp up the economic pressure on Iran until it comes to the table for "comprehensive negotiations," a demand Tehran has rejected since President Donald Trump took office, a senior Trump administration official told the Washington Free Beacon.
Officials are contemplating an array of options including sanctions on Iran's sponsorship of regional terror groups operating in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon—military hotspots where Tehran arms and directs militia groups including Hezbollah. Other efforts are currently taking place at the United Nations, where the Trump administration is laying the groundwork to expand an embargo on Iran's purchase of military equipment from countries like Russia and China.
"The president has been clear that the United States will enforce and expand maximum pressure to impose costs on Iran's malign behavior so the regime will enter comprehensive negotiations," the senior administration official told the Free Beacon.
The increased pressure on Iran comes less than a week after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) successfully launched its first-ever military satellite, marking a significant step in Iran's ballistic missile program, portions of which would be legitimized if the U.N. arms embargo were lifted. Iran has also stepped up aggressive action in the Persian Gulf and recently threatened to attack 400 U.S. military sites around the world.
For months, the Trump administration has been working behind the scenes at the U.N. to ensure the current arms embargo on Iran is not lifted later this year. It has accelerated these efforts in recent weeks, making the case to member nations that Iran's access to advanced weaponry would pose a significant terror and proliferation risk.
If the United States does not take action, the embargo will expire, permitting Iran to legally purchase advanced military equipment.
If the United States cannot convince U.N. Security Council members such as Russia and China to extend the embargo, it is likely to invoke what is known as "snapback," which would reimpose severe economic sanctions that were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. Any nation involved in inking the accord can invoke the snapback mechanism, according to an internal legal opinion issued by the State Department and confirmed to the Free Beacon earlier this year by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
While the coronavirus pandemic has ravaged Iran, its government continues to spend its cash reserves on foreign terrorist operations—and the development of its nuclear program, including the enrichment of uranium, the key component in a bomb—rather than on medical aid for its citizens.
The Trump administration maintains that any new sanctions are not meant to hurt the Iranian people, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Iran hard. The Trump administration continues to grant exceptions permitting Tehran to import medicine and other humanitarian goods.
"U.S. sanctions do not impact legitimate humanitarian aid, such as food, medicine, and medical supplies," the official told the Free Beacon. "The president supports the long-suffering Iranian people, which is why the United States established a humanitarian channel through the Swiss for transparent deliveries of humanitarian aid."
However, "the Iranian regime continues to refuse offers of coronavirus assistance from the United States," the official said.
Former Obama administration officials and their allies in the media continue to push for sanctions relief, falsely claiming the current measures block Iran's access to humanitarian relief. In response, a group of 50 former senior U.S. officials recently petitioned the White House to continue its maximum pressure campaign.
The letter, spearheaded by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank with close ties to the administration, made clear that "now is the time to double down on the maximum pressure campaign to force the mullahs to spend their money on the Iranian people, not their nuclear ambitions, imperialism, and internal oppression."
The group of U.S. officials—including former senators, ambassadors, and national security figures—expressed "strong opposition to providing sanctions relief to the Islamic Republic of Iran, until and unless the regime ceases its sponsorship of terrorism, dismantles its nuclear and missile programs, releases all American hostages, removes its forces from other countries in the Middle East, and ends its relentless abuse of the Iranian people."
Mark Dubowitz, FDD's CEO, told the Free Beacon that now is not the time to grant Iran relief from sanctions, particularly in light of its increased military threats and routine harassment of American vessels in the Persian Gulf region.
"The regime in Iran must be blocked from taking patient pathways to nuclear weapons and ICBMs and escalating its dangerous and provocative activities," Dubowitz said. "This is not the time to throw the regime a lifeline of billions of dollars in sanctions relief as some European and former Obama administration officials are recommending. Instead, it's the time to double down on the maximum pressure campaign including through a U.S. snapback of U.N. sanctions before Tehran can take advantage of JCPOA-related sunsets to acquire advanced weapons and expand its nuclear program."