The U.S. conflict with Iran looks set to be a central story of the transition from President Donald Trump‘s administration to President-Elect Joe Biden‘s, as the White House tries to collapse Tehran’s economy before the next president can re-establish diplomatic ties.
The administration announced fresh sanctions on a raft of Iranian individuals and organizations on Wednesday, including the country’s intelligence chief and a charitable foundation linked to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—who claimed earlier this month that there would be a second Trump administration despite Biden being projected the winner of the election—released a statement lauding the effect of sanctions and warning that easing pressure on Tehran would be a “dangerous choice.”
Pompeo said American sanctions—imposed despite protests from fellow members of the United Nations Security Council and co-signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, including American allies in Europe—have been “extraordinarily effective.”
The Trump administration has repeatedly said it is targeting the authoritarian theocratic regime in Iran rather than the Iranian people. Pompeo has said the U.S. has no quarrel with Iranians, and has called on them to push back against the regime. But American sanctions are inevitably harming Iranians too, particularly as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today, Iran’s economy faces a currency crisis, mounting public debt, and rising inflation,” Pompeo said, noting that American sanctions had cut vital and lucrative Iranian oil exports by some 75 percent, denying the regime more than $70 billion in oil.
“The Iranian rial has depreciated to one fifth of its former value against the dollar since the start of the campaign, while Iran’s GDP has shrunk by around 6 percent for three consecutive years,” Pompeo added.
He said the sanctions “deprive the regime of funds it would use to carry out its malign activities,” noting that the Iranian people “did not benefit from the funds as had been promised by their leaders.”
Pompeo noted concerns about the effect of sanctions on normal Iranians, though dismissed them as a regime method to push for sanctions relief. He mentioned this argument alongside warnings about “disinformation” from Tehran regarding the measures.
“We can expect to see repeated efforts by the regime to spread disinformation, and we are likely to see reports and arguments that say sanctions have failed,” Pompeo said. “We should not be deceived.”
Iranian officials have veered between urging humanitarian sanctions relief and dismissing the maximum pressure approach as an ineffective failure. Whatever Tehran says, the regime is being squeezed.
Leaders are hoping that Biden’s administration will bring an easing of sanctions and diplomatic re-engagement, but first they will have to survive another six weeks of Trump and his hawkish aides.
Iranian leaders remain publicly stubborn, dismissing Trump’s reported musing on military action and pressing Biden to rejoin the JCPOA and ease sanctions.
President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that the Trump administration is “unruly,” and said Biden could “bring back the atmosphere” that produced the 2015 nuclear deal with President Barack Obama‘s administration, in which Biden served as vice president.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh, meanwhile, tweeted Thursday that the maximum pressure campaign now represents “max failure.” Khatibzadeh said Pompeo’s “frustration is understandable.”