US to impose 'strongest sanctions in history' on Iran

The United States has vowed to impose the "strongest sanctions in history" on Iran. 

The announcement was made during a speech in Washington by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He said the Islamic country will be "battling to keep its economy alive" when the sanctions are introduced.  

Mr Pompeo did not specify when the new measures will be imposed, but a report by the BBC says the sanctions are subject to three-month and six-month "wind-down" periods. 

When the US introduced sanctions on the head of Iran's central bank, Mr Pompeo described them last week as "just the beginning". 

Previous sanctions the US has imposed on Iran prohibited almost all trade with the country, the BBC report says. The only exceptions were for activity "intended to benefit the Iranian people" including the export of agricultural and medical equipment. 

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted his disapproval on Monday, criticising US diplomacy for its "regression to old habits" and slamming the administration as a "sham". He said the US "repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards".

There's a chance New Zealand could be affected by the sanctions being imposed. New Zealand has growing trade relations with Iran, but if the Iran nuclear deal is abolished, all New Zealand and Iran trade relations will probably stop. 

What does the US want from Iran?

There are 12 conditions the US says Iran must meet before it will consider any "new deal" Mr Pompeo said. He said Iran will have to withdraw its forces from Syria and end its support for rebels in Yemen - a proxy war Iran is embroiled in against Saudi Arabia. 

"Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East," Mr Pompeo said.

There are other conditions Iran must meet, including allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of its former nuclear military programme. All US citizens and those of its allies must be released, and Iran must end its "threatening behaviour" towards Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

Iran is perceived to have extended its influence over the Middle East to areas where there are large communities of fellow Shia Muslims. The country's administration appears to support Lebanon's Hezbollah political group which fought against Israel in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War. 

Mr Pompeo has called upon Australia, alongside Bahrain, Egypt, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and the UAE, to back the US' stance on Iran. 

He also expects European countries to side with the US, despite French President Emmanuel Macron lobbying Trump to honour the Iran nuclear deal alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both European leaders recently travelled to Washington to make their appeals to the US President in person - but to no avail. 

"We welcome any nation which is sick and tired of the nuclear threats, the terrorism, the missile proliferation and the brutality of a regime at peace with inflicting chaos on innocent people," Mr Pompeo said. 

President Donald Trump announcing the US is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal on 9 May.
President Donald Trump announcing the US is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal on 9 May. Photo credit: File

President Donald Trump announced that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal two weeks ago in a speech littered with serious claims against the regime, including "definitive proof" that Iran "lied" about its nuclear programme.  

Mr Trump said the deal initiated by the Obama administration fails to address Iran's ballistic missile programme or its alleged support of terror in the Middle East. 

While Iran accepted restrictions on its nuclear work under the 2015 agreement - a programme it said was purely for peaceful purposes - it has repeatedly refused to discuss its missile programme, an issue that appears to have provoked President Trump. 

But Professor Al Gillespie of the University of Waikato told Newshub it's unlikely that Iran would want to cheat on the deal because of the benefits it has experienced of having sanctions lifted. 

With sanctions lifted in 2016, Iran gained access to more than US$100 billion in frozen assets abroad, and was able to resume selling oil and using the global financial system for trade, according to the BBC.