In remarks given to Newsweek, a senior Iranian official chastised the United States for rolling out a new round of sanctions that double down on critical energy industries already subject to restrictions by previous punitive measures taken by President Donald Trump‘s administration against the Islamic Republic.
The U.S. Department of Treasury announced Monday that its Office of Foreign Assets Control was designating the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company and the National Iranian Tanker Company on counterterrorism grounds due to their financial support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF), an elite military unit branded a terrorist organization last year by the State Department.
Reacting to the news, Iranian mission to the United Nations spokesperson Alireza Miryousefi considered the move an attack on the Iranian people themselves, who are currently facing an economic crisis and a persistent, particularly deadly COVID-19 outbreak.
“The U.S.’ hostility towards the Iranian people has no limit,” Miryousefi told Newsweek. “The U.S. is sanctioning entities that have already been sanctioned under other phony charges.”
The Iranian official referenced earlier remarks by White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who conceded to reporters on Sunday that the Trump administration had levied so many sanctions on Iran and Russia “that there’s very little left for us to do.”
“The U.S.’ addiction to sanctions has not paid off as the U.S. national security adviser admitted,” Miryousefi said, “the U.S. has out-sanctioned itself.”
The comments echoed those made earlier Monday by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also took O’Brien’s words as an admission “that U.S. has out-sanctioned its ability to inflict more pain on Iranian people.”
He called on U.S. officials to admit that the country was a “#SanctionsAddict” in a Twitter post.
“Kick the habit. More economic warfare against Iran will bring the U.S. less—and not more—influence,” the Iranian top diplomat wrote.
The U.S. has steadily tightened Trump’s “maximum pressure” of economic restrictions and military threats against Iran since the president withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May 2018. Better known as the Iran nuclear deal, the 2015 accord granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for a severe cut in nuclear production.
Fellow signatories China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom still join Iran in support of the deal and have rejected the Trump administration’s calls to leave the agreement, or extend a decade-long U.N. arms embargo on Iran that expired last week.
The Trump administration has contended that the nuclear deal has freed Tehran’s ability to fund activities considered destabilizing to the region such as funding foreign militias and developing more advanced ballistic missile capabilities, and that the country’s newfound access to the international arms market presented a danger to the region.
The past two and a half years has seen U.S.-Iran tensions soar across the Middle East, including the Persian Gulf and in Iraq, where the Trump administration ordered the killing of Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a January operation that compelled Iranian officials to swear revenge.
Monday’s Treasury Department announcement alleged that senior National Iranian Oil Company and National Iranian Tanker Company worked alongside with Quds Force officer and former Petroleum Minister Rostam Ghasemi, who the U.S. statement identified as having taken up some of Soleimani’s duties in facilitating energy shipments on behalf of the Revolutionary Guard.
“The regime in Iran uses the petroleum sector to fund the destabilizing activities of the IRGC-QF,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. “The Iranian regime continues to prioritize its support for terrorist entities and its nuclear program over the needs of the Iranian people.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also tied Iran’s oil and gas trade to the Revolutionary Guards in a separate statement released Monday.
“The Iranian regime pawns its oil to fund the destabilizing misadventures of the IRGC rather than improving conditions for its people,” Pompeo wrote. “Today the U.S. is imposing major counterterrorism sanctions against Iranian energy institutions for providing support to the IRGC’s Qods Force.”
The new measures included also designations of other alleged front companies, subsidiaries and senior executives of the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company and the National Iranian Tanker Company. Four individuals were also blacklisted for their role in Iran’s sale of gasoline to Venezuela, where the Trump administration has cut ties with President Nicolás Maduro and those doing business with him.
Both Venezuelan and Iranian officials have previously told Newsweek they planned to continue resisting U.S. efforts to alter their policies through economic coercion.
Iranian Petroleum Minister Bijan Zanganeh also deemed further U.S. sanctions a futile measure in reaction to the latest measures.
“The sanctions against me and my colleagues are a passive reaction to the failure of Washington’s policy of reducing oil exports to zero,” Zanganeh tweeted Monday. “The era of unilateralism in the world is over. Iran’s oil industry will not be exhausted. I have no assets outside of Iran that are subject to sanctions.”
“I sacrifice my life, property and reputation in Iran,” he wrote.
The new round of sanctions came less than two weeks ahead of the U.S. presidential election, when Trump was set to face Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, a proponent of the nuclear deal forged during his tenure with former President Barack Obama.
Biden has vowed to rejoin the accord and reverse some of the still mounting measures imposed by the Trump administration in an effort to dissuade companies currently or considering normalizing trade ties with the Islamic Republic.
At the same time, the former vice president has pledged to push back on Iranian actions he opposed. Biden warned during Thursday’s final presidential debate that Iran “will pay a price” if it was found the country attempted to interfere with the upcoming race by sending voters fake emails pretending to be from the far-right Proud Boys group and threatening “Vote for Trump or Else!”
The alleged scheme was revealed by National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe late Wednesday, a day before the debate, where Trump alleged the plot was intended to damage his chances of winning.
Miryousefi has denied Iran’s involvement in the affair and declared no preference for the outcome of the election.
“We do not comment on election issues and are not interested in entering the debate,” Miryousefi told Newsweek on Friday. “We have repeatedly stated that Iran does not interfere in other countries’ elections.”