After horrifying the executives at HBO by tweeting a meme about the impending reinstatement of sanctions against Iran on Friday (the image was a play on HBO's "Winter is Coming" advertising campaign for its hit series "Game of Thrones"), President Trump clarified that the White House remained open to working out a "more comprehensive" agreement with Iran that would ideally help curb the regime's "malign activities" in the Middle East and "forever block" Iran from building nuclear weapons.
This isn't the first time that Trump has said he is open to a "new deal" with Iran. But the mildly less threatening rhetoric was, we imagine, designed to encourage the pullback in oil prices seen in recent weeks. Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would grant sanctions waivers to eight countries (but not the European Union as a whole). The US has also decided not to encourage SWIFT to disconnect Iranian banks from the global financial system.
Trump said in a statement released Friday afternoon that "powerful sanctions" against Iranian "energy, shipping, ship building...and sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and other sanctioned Iranian banks" would take effect for the first time since shortly after President Obama agreed to the 2015 Iran deal with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany. He also pointed out that the Iranian real has lost 70% of its value since Trump officially pulled out of the deal in May, and that Iranian defense spending has only continued to climb.
Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior or continue down the path toward economic disaster.
The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program and its development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism, and enrich its leaders.
These measures, along with 19 rounds of sanctions designations since January 2017, represent the toughest sanctions the United States has ever levied against Iran—and they are already having devastating effect on the Iranian economy.
Over the past year, the Iranian rial has lost about 70 percent of its value, and Iran’s economy is sliding into recession. Iran’s inflation rate has nearly quadrupled since May of this year, reaching almost 37 percent in October. More than 100 companies have decided to cease doing business with Iran, and we expect that number to grow. Governments and businesses should ask themselves whether continuing to deal with Iran is worth the risk.
Trump insisted that the sanctions were intended to harm the Iranian regime, not the country's "long suffering" people (though, in truth, it's widely expected that the Iranian people will bear the brunt of the economic fallout).
Finally, I want to be clear that United States actions are aimed at the regime and its threatening behavior—not at the long-suffering Iranian people. For this reason, we reiterate today that the sale of food, medicine, medical devices, and agricultural commodities to Iran has long been, and remains, exempt from the sanctions.
We call on the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, change its destructive behavior, respect the rights of its people, and return in good faith to the negotiating table. We seek cooperation from our allies and partners in this effort.
The United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people.
But while oil traders were likely relieved to learn that the Trump Administration has at least refrained from adopting the most extreme hard-line stance against Iran (a position that would have been further complicated by the backlash to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi), Iranian leaders have, unsurprisingly, remained defiant.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, voiced defiance of the US president and said "the world opposes every decision made by Trump."
"America's goal has been to re-establish the domination it had [before 1979] but it has failed. America has been defeated by the Islamic Republic over the past 40 years," the ayatollah said.
The leader of Iran's Quds force took the condemnations of Trump one step further, tweeting a "Game of Thrones"-inspired image of his own promising "I will stand against you."
#Iran’s General Soleimani responded to “gambler”#US President Donald Trump’s announcement:— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) November 3, 2018
Come! We are waiting, I will stand against you. Quds Force will stand against you. You start this war, but we will finish it,” Major-General Soleimani, wrote on Instagram in Farsi on Friday pic.twitter.com/fPkcMRIy4s
While a deal with Iran remains unlikely (barring a dramatic deterioration in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia), we look forward to the next round of the US-Iran meme war.