WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Iran’s national bank, escalating economic pressure on the country as the president’s national security advisers review a list of targets for a potential strike in retaliation for recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil fields.
“It’s going to hell,” Trump said of Iran’s economy, speaking in the Oval Office where he was hosting the Australian prime minister. “They’re practically broke. They are broke.”
The sanctions come as Trump’s fourth national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, settles into his new role and the administration considers options for Iran, including tightening the stranglehold on Iran’s economy, sending more US forces to the region and launching military strikes targeting weapons caches and possibly oil facilities. The president was expected to be briefed about the range of options on Friday.
“Going into Iran would be a very easy decision,” Trump said later Friday during a joint news conference with the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison. Trump cautioned that he was not facing an imminent decision. “Plenty of time,” he said.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Thursday that a military strike against Iran by the United States or Saudi Arabia would result in “an all-out war.”
The latest sanctions affect the Central Bank of Iran and the National Development Fund of Iran, “the last remaining source of funds,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who joined Trump in the Oval Office.
“This is very big,” Mnuchin said. “We’ve now cut off all source of funds to Iran.”
Last year, the United States took the rare step to designate the head of the central bank, Valiollah Seif, as a global terrorist, and accused the bank of funneling money to Hezbollah.
While the Trump administration emphasized the severity of the latest sanctions, it was not clear that they would have any real impact on Iran’s behavior or do much additional damage to its economy. In addition to sanctioning Seif last year, the Treasury Department reimposed sanctions related to purchases of US dollars by the Iranian government, which had been suspended as part of an international nuclear accord.
The new sanctions to the central bank are an additional layer over what the United States has already levied, said Ryan Fayhee, a partner at Hughes Hubbard and Reed who heads the firm’s sanctions, export controls, and anti-money laundering practice. The impact of the new sanctions on the development fund, Fayhee said, depend on how active or well-funded it is. If the fund has access to oil revenues, he said, the sanctions could have an impact. He said the extent of central bank interest and property in the United States is not known.
Trump declined to discuss options beyond sanctions and a military strike that could be taken against Iran.
“But I will say I think the sanctions work and the military would work, but that’s a very severe form of winning,” Trump said. “But we win.”
The United States has called the recent strikes on Saudi oil facilities an “act of war” and blames Iran, though Tehran denies any role in the attacks, which hit two of the kingdom’s most important oil facilities.
Trump has avoided military action against Iran and he campaigned on a promise to end America’s foreign wars. But he is also fighting an image forming of a weak president who did not retaliate in June to Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone. He now faces a decision on how to respond to attacks on a longtime US ally in the Gulf region.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the president wanted a peaceful route.
Trump stressed on Friday that he was “always prepared” for military action against Iran. “There’s never been a country more prepared,” he said.