The sanctions include freezes on any assets those targeted may have in US jurisdisctions, bar Americans from doing business with them and, perhaps most importantly, open up foreign governments, companies and individuals to US penalties if they engage in transactions with them.
Announcing the sanctions, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the UK, France and Germany would be required not just to comply with the sanctions, but to enforce them. But the UN has asserted that the decision is not up to Washington, and the European powers have warned that the US does not have the legal power to do so.
“The US has now restored UN sanctions on Iran,” Trump said in a statement. “My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran.”
The Trump administration argues that it is enforcing a UN arms embargo that Iran has violated, including through an attack on Saudi oil facilities. The embargo on conventional arms shipments to Iran is set to expire next month after the US failed to win support for a new UN resolution.
The Trump administration says it is “snapping back” virtually all UN sanctions on Iran lifted under a 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran negotiated by former president Barack Obama. Trump pulled out of the deal with fanfare in 2018. But Pompeo argues that the US is still a “participant” in the deal — with the right to impose sanctions for violations — as it was listed in the resolution that blessed Obama’s diplomatic effort.
The legal argument has been rejected by almost the entire UN Security Council, with European allies of the US saying the priority is to salvage a peaceful solution on Iran’s nuclear programme. “We have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce the sanctions,” Pompeo told reporters when asked about European opposition. “That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany.”
Pompeo also announced sanctions on the Nicolas Maduro saying, that the Venezuelan president and other officials had worked with Tehran to “flout the UN arms embargo”. “Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide. No matter who you are if you ignore UN sanctions, you risk sanctions.”