“Failure to take heed . . . bears grave consequences,” an administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under administration rules. The State Department also offered a $15 million reward for information that helps disrupt the network.
The new sanctions came just 10 days after both President Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani indicated a willingness to meet.
Trump repeated the offer Wednesday, even as White House and Treasury and State Department officials were discussing the new measures. The two leaders are to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly late this month.
“Sure. Anything is possible,” Trump said of that venue. “We could solve it in 24 hours.”
“We’re going to see what happens. They want to talk. They want to make a deal,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We’re not looking for regime change. They have tremendous potential and I believe they are going to want to take advantage of that.”
Rouhani, after first responding favorably, on Tuesday ruled out any bilateral discussions with the United States, saying Iran would talk to the administration only as part of multilateral negotiations after all sanctions have been lifted and the administration returns to the international nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew last year.
“We’ve said it before and we will say it again: We have no intention to hold bilateral talks with the United States. We never did and never will,” Rouhani said. He said that Iran will abandon restrictions on nuclear research and development, including on the advancement of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, as the next step toward reducing its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Both sides appeared to be sending mixed messages, said Dennis Ross, a Middle East expert who advised Presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush.
“Below Trump, there is one consistent set of messaging — we’re going to keep squeezing you until you realize that you have to come to the table. There is no give from us,” he said. But “at Trump’s level, the messaging is rather different.”
At the Group of Seven meeting last month in France, Trump spoke favorably of a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron to compensate Iran in exchange for its full compliance with the nuclear deal. At a summit news conference, Trump seemed “not only to acknowledge that, but then goes along with the whole idea of a line of credit . . . and the implication we wouldn’t oppose it,” Ross said.
This week, France proposed a $15 billion line of credit, and Macron sent his finance minister to discuss it with U.S. officials.
On Wednesday, however, Trump seemed to have changed his mind about the wisdom of that approach.
“I very much appreciate President Macron’s involvement but we’re not dealing through President Macron. We’re dealing with people directly,” Trump said. “They said until we do certain other things, like drop sanctions, and that’s not happening, that won’t be happening.”
France, along with the other signatories who remain in the 2015 nuclear deal — Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union — has spearheaded efforts to keep it afloat, even as the administration has denounced it as inadequate and called for it to be renegotiated. Iran has begun to ease away from its terms, protesting that U.S. sanctions have taken away the economic benefits promised in exchange for Iran’s limiting its nuclear program.
On Wednesday, Rouhani said the new steps he announced would have an “extraordinary” impact on, and considerably elevate, Iran’s nuclear energy program. Experts have said all the Iranian steps taken thus far are reversible.
Europe has been given “another two-month deadline for negotiations, an agreement and a return to its commitments,” Rouhani said. Iranian television quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi as tying the new deadline directly to Macron’s proposal.
“Our return to the full implementation of the nuclear accord is subject to the receipt of $15 billion,” Araghchi said. “Otherwise, the process of reducing Iran’s commitments will continue. Either Europe has to buy oil from Iran or provide Iran with the equivalent of selling oil as a credit line guaranteed by Iran’s oil revenue.”
When strict U.S. oil sanctions were imposed last fall, five countries that depended heavily on Iranian oil — China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey — were given temporary waivers. Those waivers were ended in May, a decision the White House said was “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports down to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.”
With exports slashed more than 80 percent, the Iranian economy is believed to be close to collapse. As a result, the administration contends that has cut Iran’s financial and weapons support to proxy groups that the United States has designated as terrorist, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, both of them avowed enemies of U.S. ally Israel.
At the same time, however, the United States and Israel have charged that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the Iranian military force that wields enormous domestic power and answers to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and whose Quds Force unit is responsible for external proxy fights and extraterritorial operations — has supplied Hezbollah, Hamas and Shiite militias in Iraq with increasingly sophisticated weaponry.
In recent weeks, Israel has reportedly carried out bombing raids in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria against what it says are precision-guided missiles and missile-production facilities supplied by Iran to its proxies in those countries.
Many experts and U.S. allies have suggested that Washington signal some flexibility in its enforcement of sanctions to entice the Iranians to negotiate. But the latest sanctions appear to slam the door on that possibility.
The measures announced Wednesday — designating 16 entities in Iran and other countries, and 10 individuals and 11 tanker vessels — directly target the Quds Force, which the administration says is responsible for setting up an elaborate system of cutouts and shell companies to evade oil sanctions and is using the money to support terrorism.
Officials said the Revolutionary Guard had moved hundreds of millions of dollars through the network and repeatedly tried to pass off Iranian oil as Iraqi in origin.
“With today’s action, the sanctioned individuals and entities will be denied access to the U.S. financial system and listed online as Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “In addition, a freeze will be placed on any U.S. assets. Non-U.S. persons who knowingly provide significant goods, services, or support to the individuals and entities designated today may themselves face sanctions consequences.”
The latest sanctions come one day after the Treasury Department sanctioned Iran’s space agency, accusing it of trying to develop ballistic missiles under the guise of working on communications satellites.
Cunningham reported from Istanbul.