WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s administration imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran’s banking sector, taking a major new step to cripple the arch-rival’s already struggling economy weeks ahead of US elections.
The Treasury Department said it was designating 18 major Iranian banks, a move that could largely cut off the nation of 80 million people from the world’s financial system just as it tries to cope with the Middle East’s worst Covid-19 outbreak.
The United States defied concerns from European allies that the sanctions could cause needless suffering and insisted it was making exemptions for humanitarian trade.
“Our sanctions are directed at the regime and its corrupt officials that have used the wealth of the Iranian people to fuel a radical, revolutionary cause that has brought untold suffering across the Middle East and beyond,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
He said the Iranian leadership was to blame for devoting funds to the military when it has health needs.
“Our maximum economic pressure campaign will continue until Iran is willing to conclude a comprehensive negotiation that addresses the regime’s malign behavior,” Pompeo said.
The Treasury Department did not list specific accusations against most of the banks, instead declaring broadly that the entire Iranian financial sector may be used to support the government’s contested weapons programs and regional efforts.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of trying to “blow up our remaining channels to pay for food and medicine” during the pandemic.
“Iranians WILL survive this latest of cruelties. But conspiring to starve a population is a crime against humanity,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
“Culprits & enablers — who block our money — WILL face justice.”