President Trump announced Friday afternoon that he would extend sanctions relief to Iran for one more 120-day period, thus keeping President Obama's nuclear deal alive. Washington also imposed sanctions on the head of Iran's judiciary and others.
"The idea is they (should) never expire", a senior administration official, speaking anonymously, said of the restrictions in briefing reporters ahead of the announcement. "We have sanctioned almost 100 individuals and entities involved with the Iranian regime's ballistic missile program and its other illicit activities".
Trump had certified the deal twice before, and senior officials have grudgingly said Iran is complying.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had earlier said on Twitter that the deal was "not renegotiable" and that Trump's move "amounts to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement". The sanctions, when they are in place, target third parties overseas that deal with Iran and have the effect - because of the reach of the USA dollar - of severely inhibiting trade with Iran.
The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany threw their weight behind the pact limiting Iran's nuclear ambitions and insisted that the Islamic Republic is respecting it. "In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal".
The Trump administration has accused Iran of fomenting instability and violence across the Mideast, and the president's decision gives the White House and Congress more time to forge legislation punishing the country for that behavior without directly ending the nuclear accord that Iran reached with the US and five other world powers.
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The US president declared in October that the agreement was "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into", and warned that within a few years Iran would be able to "sprint towards a rapid nuclear weapons breakout".
The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned 14 companies and individuals in Iran and China - in connection with alleged human rights violations and weapons proliferation.
The EU said in a statement it had taken note of Trump's decision and would assess its implications.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has been working on amending a United States law to include "trigger points" that if crossed by Iran would automatically bring back U.S. sanctions.
Trump had faced a Friday deadline to decide on whether to waive the sanctions.
"Should the United States withdraw from the JCPOA, Iran will carry out its response plan so rapidly that would surprise the Americans", he said.