Trump Reimposes Sanctions On Iran Previously Lifted Pursuant To Nuclear Deal

The Trump Administration has taken the latest step in a process that began in May with the withdrawal from the JCPOA. Where it takes us is anybody's guess, but the probability of something going wrong is quite high.

The White House has announced that the United States is reimposing sanctions on Iran that were lifted pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), the latest step in the Trump Administration’s seemingly obvious efforts to tighten the screws on the Islamic Republic and increase tensions in the Middle East:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said it would restore sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear accord at midnight on Monday, ratcheting up pressure on Tehran while worsening a divide with Europe.

The new sanctions are a consequence of President Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the nuclear deal with world powers. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that the goal was to get Iran to change its ways — including ending all nuclear enrichment as well as its support of brutal governments or uprisings in the Middle East.

European officials have said that the Iran nuclear agreement is crucial to their national security. International inspectors have concluded that Iran is complying with the accord.

The new sanctions bar any transactions with Iran involving dollar bank notes, gold, precious metals, aluminum, steel, commercial passenger aircraft and coal, and they end imports into the United States of Iranian carpets and food stuffs.

They represent one of the few major foreign policy initiatives on which Mr. Trump and the rest of the administration and the Republican Party broadly agree.

“We’re very hopeful that we can find a way to move forward, but it’s going to require enormous change on the part of the Iranian regime,” Mr. Pompeo said on Sunday. “They’ve got to behave like a normal country. That’s the ask. It’s pretty simple.”

In a speech in May, Mr. Pompeo demanded that Iran end all nuclear enrichment and development of nuclear-capable missile citizens, release all American citizens, end its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Houthi militias and withdraw its forces from Syria.

He said such changes would be consistent with “global norms,” although the enrichment of nuclear material for civilian purposes and the development of rockets is allowed under international law. Additionally, Russia, Turkey, Iraq and the United States all have forces fighting in Syria’s seven year civil war.

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, senior administration officials said they were simply looking for a change in behavior from Tehran, not for a change in government. They noted that the threat of new sanctions have already had an effect on the Iranian economy — including a plunge in the value of the rial, growing unemployment and increasing protests.

More from The Washington Post:

The Trump administration on Monday moved to reimpose the first round of Iranian trade sanctions that had been suspended under the 2015 nuclear agreement, distancing itself from every other country that signed the agreement and putting the accord’s future in jeopardy.

U.S. officials said the sanctions that have been waived for the past two and a half years will be snapped back officially on Tuesday morning at one minute past midnight.

From that moment on, Iran will be prohibited from using U.S. dollars, the primary currency used for international financial transactions and oil purchases. Trade in metals and sales of Iranian-made cars will be banned. Permits allowing the import of Iranian carpets and food, such as pistachios, will be revoked. So will licenses that have allowed Tehran to buy U.S. and European aircraft and parts — a restriction that comes just days after Iran completed the acquisition of five new commercial planes from Europe.

Those who don’t comply could be subject to “severe consequences,” President Trump said in a statement.

In a background call to reporters, senior administration officials said the goal was twofold: to prod Iran to renegotiate the nuclear agreement so it also addresses Iran’s ballistic missile tests and adventuresome activities in the region, and to change the government’s behavior. They openly sided with Iranian protesters unhappy with the faltering economy and social issues, but stopped just short of calling on Iranians to rise up against their government.

“The president has been very clear,” one official said. “None of this needs to happen . . . The Iranian people should not suffer because of their regime’s hegemonic ambitions.”

In his statement, Trump slammed the “horrible” agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and declared himself “open” to a new deal to replace the one officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The JCPOA, a horrible, one-sided deal, failed to achieve the fundamental objective of blocking all paths to an Iranian nuclear bomb, and it threw a lifeline of cash to a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence, and chaos,” he said.

In a gesture aimed at European countries that consider the deal vital to their security but remain concerned about Iran’s other activities, he added, “As we continue applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime, I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism. The United States welcomes the partnership of likeminded nations in these efforts.”

Like other officials in his administration, Trump hinted at his desire for a different government to replace the theocratic rulers of Iran, without directly calling for regime change.


The European Union and U.S. allies Britain, France and Germany announced what they called a “blocking statute” to take effect Tuesday that would attempt to nullify U.S. legal action against European firms doing business with Iran.

“We are determined to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran, in accordance with EU law,” a joint statement said.

The statement expressed regret over the U.S. decision to reimpose sanctions, and declared, “The JCPOA is working and delivering on its goal, namely to ensure that the Iranian programme remains exclusively peaceful.”

The White House has already posted the President’s Executive Order reimposing sanctions, the text of a letter to Congressional leaders regarding the sanctions, and this statement:

Today, the United States is taking action to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions with respect to Iran that were lifted in connection with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of July 14, 2015 (the “JCPOA”). These actions include reimposing sanctions on Iran’s automotive sector and on its trade in gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions related to the Iranian rial. These measures will take effect on August 7, 2018.

All remaining United States nuclear-related sanctions will resume effective November 5, 2018. These include sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector, including petroleum-related transactions, as well as transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran.

The United States is fully committed to enforcing all of our sanctions, and we will work closely with nations conducting business with Iran to ensure complete compliance. Individuals or entities that fail to wind down activities with Iran risk severe consequences.

I am pleased that many international firms have already announced their intent to leave the Iranian market, and several countries have indicated that they will reduce or end imports of Iranian crude oil. We urge all nations to take such steps to make clear that the Iranian regime faces a choice: either change its threatening, destabilizing behavior and reintegrate with the global economy, or continue down a path of economic isolation.

My actions today – including my signing of an Executive Order entitled “Reimposing Certain Sanctions with Respect to Iran” – are consistent with National Security Presidential Memorandum-11 of May 8, 2018, announcing the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA.

The JCPOA, a horrible, one-sided deal, failed to achieve the fundamental objective of blocking all paths to an Iranian nuclear bomb, and it threw a lifeline of cash to a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence, and chaos.

Since the deal was reached, Iran’s aggression has only increased. The regime has used the windfall of newly accessible funds it received under the JCPOA to build nuclear-capable missiles, fund terrorism, and fuel conflict across the Middle East and beyond.

To this day, Iran threatens the United States and our allies, undermines the international financial system, and supports terrorism and militant proxies around the world.

By exiting the JCPOA, the United States is able to protect its national security by applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime. To date, my Administration has issued 17 rounds of Iran-related sanctions, designating 145 companies and individuals. Since my announcement on May 8 withdrawing the United States from the JCPOA, my Administration has sanctioned 38 Iran-related targets in six separate actions. Reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions through today’s actions further intensifies pressure on Tehran to change its conduct.

As we continue applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime, I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism. The United States welcomes the partnership of likeminded nations in these efforts.

The United States continues to stand with the long-suffering Iranian people, who are the rightful heirs to Iran’s rich heritage and the real victims of the regime’s policies. We look forward to the day when the people of Iran, and all people across the region, can prosper together in safety and peace.

None of this comes as a surprise, of course. The President’s rhetoric in the statement above, for example, mirrors his rhetoric throughout the campaign for President during which he repeatedly expressed disdain for the agreement and alleged that President Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of State Kerry had negotiated what he often referred to as the worst deal in history. During the time in the late summer of 2015 that Congress was considering the agreement, Trump co-hosted a rally in Washington with fellow Republican candidate for President Ted Cruz that sought to rally support against the agreement.  That effort failed, but it cemented Trump as the principal anti-JCPOA candidate in the race.

After he took office, the President continued to attack the agreement but was initially hesitant to completely walk away from it. In May 2017, for example, Trump lifted another set of sanctions pursuant to the requirements of the JCPOA. Later in the year, Trump again stopped short of withdrawing from the agreement but at the same time declined to certify to Congress that Iran was in compliance with the agreement, which many observers saw as the first step in a process that would lead to a full repudiation of the agreement. This decision to decertify compliance came despite the fact that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both said on the record that Iran was complying with its obligations and that staying in the agreement was in the national interests of the United States. The also took this step despite the fact that the  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the agreement, has said each time it has been required to report on the status of the agreement that Iran is living up to its obligations under the agreement.  Finally, in May of this year, Trump pulled the trigger and withdrew the United States from the agreement, thus setting in motion the decision to reimpose sanctions that were announced today.

Daniel Larison essentially calls today’s actions a pointless act:

Sanctions are frequently ineffective, but in this case they are also completely unjustified. Reneging on sanctions relief after the sanctioned government complies with U.S. demands is disreputable, and it tells other sanctioned governments that they should think twice before making any agreements to obtain sanctions relief. That will make an already weak and overused tool even less effective than it is now, and it will make it even harder to negotiate with sanctioned regimes.

The only value that sanctions have in U.S. foreign policy is if they can be used to advance American interests at an acceptably low cost. In the case of these sanctions on Iran, there is no way that they can do that. Iran cannot repeat its nuclear program concessions to get out from under these sanctions. It cannot be more in compliance with the nuclear deal when it is already fully compliant. Sanctioning Iran over an issue that has already been resolved to the satisfaction of all other parties is gratuitous, cruel, and irrational.

The most notable thing about the White House’s statement and other rhetoric from the Administration in the months since the withdrawal from the JCPOA, of course, is the fact that it makes reference to things that are wholly unrelated to the agreement itself. Among these are Iran’s ballistic missile research programs, its support for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, its support for the government of Bashar Assad, its involvement in the civil war in Yemen (although the Administration remains notoriously silent about the role that Saudi Arabia is playing in that conflict), and other matters. While these are all serious matters worthy of discussion, they are not issues that were covered by the JCPOA itself, nor were they ever intended to be. Indeed, when the process of imposing sanctions on Iran regarding its nuclear program was still in its infancy, it was generally agreed by the parties involved — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China — that the sanctions would be aimed solely at getting Iran to the table to discuss that program and work toward the deal that eventually became the JCPOA. The reasoning behind that was that bringing the Iranian nuclear program under control was something all parties could agree to and that keeping the negotiations as focused as possible on achieving something worthwhile. That achievement, the JCPOA itself, is by no means perfect but it is the most significant international agreement that has ever been reached with the Islamic Republic and it put Iran’s nuclear program under international scrutiny that it had never seen before.

Instead of taking all of that into consideration, the Trump Administration decided to pander to the right-wing here in the United States and, of course, the Israeli government and take American foreign policy regarding Iran in an entirely different direction from where it was headed after 2015. As I’ve suggested in the wake of a particularly bombastic speech by Secretary of State Pompeo, this is a bad idea:

[I]t’s a direction that is fraught with danger, unlikely to accomplish anything, and more likely to ramp up the threats that the United States and its allies already face in the Middle East and around the world. While the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran, those sanctions will not have nearly the same impact that they would have if they were joined by our international allies. Additionally, it’s clear that the Iranians will not return to the negotiating table at least in the short term, especially since it seems apparent from the President’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA that, at least under this President, the United States cannot be trusted to keep the agreements it enters into. Furthermore, if Pompeo’s action is a signal that the United States is committed to the rather idiotic and ultimately doomed strategy of regime change in Tehran, then the post-withdrawal strategy of the U.S. is likely to strengthen the hand of hardliners in Tehran who opposed the efforts of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to normalize relations with the West in general and the United States in particular. Needless to say, the prospect of these hardliners gaining ground in the internal battles inside the Islamic Republic is not something we should be trying to actively encourage. Unless that is, one is openly hoping for heightened tensions that could devolve into a diplomatic and military crisis that is entirely unnecessary.

Of course, that may be exactly what the Trump Administration is aiming for.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Let’s not overlook the Saudis in all this. They think they’re all big and bad now and want to try out all those weapons systems we’ve been selling them. Having failed abjectly in Yemen they want a fight with Iran, because that makes sense, if you can’t beat the little guy, go pick a fight with a much bigger guy.

    Of course in this they’d have what they don’t have in Yemen: their much bigger, much more effective brothers the US Air Force and US Navy. The Saudis have been paying Trump off via his properties so it’ll be an internal battle for old Don, the familiar conflict between greed and cowardice.

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    How effective will these be if no other countries are behind them? Everyone else in the world is going along with the JCPOA as negotiated. So we get, what? Higher gas prices? Well played, Dennison.
    The other thing about this; if you compare this with NoKo, there is no consistency whatsoever. NoKo gave us nothing and Dennison declared victory. Iran knuckled under and has lived up to a pretty stringent agreement, and Dennison calls it crap and throws it away.

  3. al Ameda says:

    So, Trump laid in sanctions to force Iran to the table? I could have sworn that we had an agreement with Iran not all that long ago.

    Trump tossed the old agreement because it was negotiated by the previous president, the very same president who was the subject of a multi-year (and yes it was a racist) Birther Investigation.

  4. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: This is my question also, are financial networks, supply chains and lots of other things I don’t understand so interconnected that everyone has to play along with sanctions or can other countries simply work around them?

  5. Kylopod says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: The biggest thing Trump has achieved in all this is shattering the US’s credibility. From now on, our word is worth shit. Now there’s no reason for any country to get into an agreement with us—unless of course they want to con us.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @Mr. Prosser: I suspect the EU and other countries will work around whatever “punishments” Trump tries to lay down on Iran.

    What we’ve managed to do is shift any Iranian economic dependence on the U.S. to their increased engagement with other countries, leaving us out in the cold when we finally come to our senses and try to re-engage.

    China must be thrilled.

  7. Kari Q says:

    Just another step in the process of Making America Irrelevant Again.

    From trade to preventing nuclear proliferation to protecting the environment, the rest of the world is moving forward and the U.S. is being ignored.

  8. Robert C says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: One word: Israel.

  9. Kathy says:

    I’m not a semi literate con artist, so maybe I have this all wrong. Iran still has economic problems, even with the sanctions relief obtained through the JCPOA. So wouldn’t it be easier, not to mention possible, to extract further concessions from Iran by offering to relieve other existing sanctions? Especially if a bunch of major countries can bring pressure to bear?

    I’m sure there must be some fifty dimensional reason to screw this up. Beyond pandering to ignorant voters, even.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: @Mr. Prosser: @grumpy realist:

    The sanctions have bite because of banking and the ways the international finance system is set up such that New York is at the center of it. (not the least being the $ is the preferred currency for commerce) Europe is at present trying to set up work arounds for Iran. We’ll see how successful they are.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    to darryl, prosser, and grumpy,

    The sanctions have bite because of banking and the ways the international finance system is set up such that New York is at the center of it. (not the least being the $ is the preferred currency for commerce) Europe is at present trying to set up work arounds for Iran. We’ll see how successful they are.

  12. charon says:

    @Robert C:

    Israel and its American friends, plus the people who were once PNAC.

  13. JohnMcC says:

    This is why Mr Bolton came along despite the Russia love all around him. (I guess I’m stealing a thought from Charon right above.)

  14. Robert C says:


  15. grumpy realist says:

    OT: I don’t know if anyone’s been following the Manafort vs. everybody else shindig going on at present, but this comment from the Twitter peanut gallery is priceless:

    If Manafort’s defense is that Gates skimmed from Manafort’s undeclared offshore account that’s pretty much the international money-laundering equivalent of calling 911 to report your cocaine’s been stolen.

  16. teve tory says:

    @grumpy realist: Trumpers always humiliate themselves. That is fuckin hilarious. 😛

  17. Tyrell says:

    Trump needs to arrange a meeting with the Iran leaders and work out an outline of some framework for a future treaty that would be better than what they had.
    This meeting might calm down the leaders of Iran. One thing we don’t want is for Iran to attack Israel, or Iran to team up with Turkey and Russia.

  18. Matt says:

    @Tyrell:Christ almighty you’re clueless. Iran isn’t going to attack Israel that possibility only exists in the fevered dreams of the right wingers here in the USA and the hardcore nut jobs that are a minority in Iran. Trump pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) gives those extremists ammo to clobber the moderates with. See the extremists in Iran said the JCPOA was a bad deal and that it gave Iran’s sovereign rights away to the great satan and Israel. They also said that trusting the USA to hold up it’s end of a treaty was a mistake. So way to go Trump you gave the extremists in Iran a huge birthday present by behaving exactly as the extremists predicted…