US President Donald Trump has called them the "highest sanctions ever imposed on a country." The announcement was made in a wide-ranging press conference with Australian PM Scott Morrison.
The United States announced new sanctions on Iran's national bank and the country's sovereign wealth fund Friday. Speaking at a White House press conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, US President Donald Trump called them "the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country."
Trump said he believed that "sanctions work," but also threatened military action if necessary. Speaking with reporters, he said: "The easiest thing I could do [is] knock out 15 different major things in Iran. I could do it right here in front of you. And that would be it." Trump added that by showing restraint, he was also showing strength.
Plenty of blame, but no evidence
The US has made clear that it holds Iran responsible for an attack on a Saudi Arabian oil facility last weekend. Iran has denied any responsibility for the attack, which Houthi rebels in Yemen say they carried out alone.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin released a statement on the sanctions, saying, "Iran's brazen attack against Saudi Arabia is unacceptable." He explained that his department's sanctions target, "a crucial funding mechanism that the Iranian regime uses to support its terrorist network," accusing the Islamic Republic of "destabilizing the region."
Since withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last year, the US has placed a number of sanctions on Iran. Better known as the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 JCPOA gave sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for the country abandoning its nuclear ambitions.
European allies are concerned that the US approach is extremely counterproductive and threatens to unravel the JCPOA entirely as Iran becomes more isolated.
Moving on to China
During the press conference, Trump also touched on a number of other topics. Speaking on the topic of China, Trump said, "I'm looking for a complete deal" to end the ongoing trade war with Beijing. He added that he felt no pressure to close the deal any time soon, saying, "I don't think I need it before the election" in 2020.
Morrison chimed in to offer his backing for the president's hard-nosed approach, saying: "We need to make sure that we all compete on the same playing field," adding that China cannot have "special rules."
Morrison, who will be the special guest at a state dinner Friday evening, shares Trump's climate change skepticism — Australia is the world's largest producer of coal — as well as his hard line on immigration.
Australia will also join the US on naval patrols in the Strait of Hormuz as well as following Washington's example of freezing Chinese telecom giant Huawei out of its 5G network.
Australia has been spared Trump's ire when it comes to trade, as the US enjoys a trade surplus with the country.
Threatening allies over captured nationals fighting for 'IS'
In an aside, President Trump also threatened European allies on the unrelated subject of the so-called Islamic State (IS) Friday. After exclaiming, "I defeated the caliphate" — in reference to the group's stated, yet failed, goal — Trump threatened to release captured IS fighters at the borders of Germany and France if they were not willing to take nationals now in US custody.
Trump complained: "Now we have thousands of prisoners of war." He said that so far European countries have refused to take back captured EU nationals, adding, "At some point, I'm going to have to say, 'I'm sorry, but you either take them back or we're going to let them go at your border."
'I don't know the identity of the whistleblower'
The last topic to be addressed by the president was the issue of a whistleblower complaint citing security risks reportedly centered on a "promise" that Trump made to a foreign leader.
The allegations reportedly revolve around a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whom Trump will meet on the sidelines of next week's United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Trump brushed off the allegation, accusing the whistleblower of being a "partisan." Asked if he knew the identity of the whistleblower, he said, "I don't know the identity of the whistleblower, I just hear it's a partisan person."
The president then went on to rail against the press, accusing them of working with Democrats.
js/kl (AFP, dpa)