Pursuing regime change in Iran, the Trump Administration will reportedly impose new sanctions on Tehran this week, as the US moves air and naval forces to the Middle East.
Citing “two senior administration sources”, Axios said the announcement will probably come on Wednesday.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Trump Administration is planning measures against the petrochemical industry, complementing the expanding sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors. But the officials speaking to Axios said the energy sector is unlikely to be this week’s target.
In the past month, the Administration has extended the comprehensive sanctions imposed in November, six months after Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany).
The Administration designated the Revolutionary Guards as a “foreign terrorist organization” in early April, claiming the move could affect 11 million people connected with the Guards. Two weeks ago, it ended sanctions waivers for Iran’s leading oil customers such as China, India, Turkey, South Korea, and Japan.
Iran’s official oil exports have fallen almost 60% since April 2018, putting pressure on a Government which relies on revenues for about one-third of its budget.
Inflation, which had been brought down from more than 40% to single digits by the Rouhani Government, has resurged to about 50%, with price spikes higher for some items such as bread. Production and investment, already under strain because of structural issues, have been further hindered.
The Iranian rial, which lost 75% of its value last year before a limited recovery, has slipped to its lowest point in months. On Monday, it crossed the 150,000:1 mark against the US dollar.
The Administration reinforced its pressure on Sunday with a military fist-shaking, as National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the despatch of a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a “clear and unmistakable message” to Iran.
Bolton maintained that the Trump Administration is not seeking war, but “we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or regular Iranian forces”.
He thundered, “Any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”
The US Navy said the strike group left the Naval Station at Norfolk, Virginia, on April 1 on a regularly-scheduled deployment. It consists of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier; the USS Leyte Gulf, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; Carrier Air Wing Seven; and destroyers from Destroyer Squadron Two.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said:
It is absolutely the case that we have seen escalatory actions from the Iranians, and it is equally the case that we will hold the Iranians accountable for attacks on American interests.
If these actions take place — if they do by some third-party proxy, a militia group, Hezbollah — we will hold the Iranian leadership directly accountable for that.
Just before the US designation of the Revolutionary Guards as terrorist, its commanders warned of “reciprocal measures”. However, there have been no substantive measures so far.