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US announces fresh sanctions on Iran’s defense ministry, nuclear scientists

Washington has said it imposing new sanctions on the Iranian defense ministry and scientists working to develop Iran’s nuclear program just days after it unilaterally announced the return of UN sanctions against Tehran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that Washington is imposing new sanctions on Iran to prevent Tehran from purchasing weapons.

“Iranian authorities are spending their annual budget on terrorism rather than spending on its own people,” Pompeo told reporters.

“We will prevent Iran from providing ballistic missiles to anyone,” he added.

The announcement comes a day after Pompeo said the US was unilaterally reimposing UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activity.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, however, said there would be no UN action against Iran due to “uncertainty” following the US declaration.

Five scientists working to develop Iran’s nuclear program are also subject to the new sanctions.

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was also present at the press conference, and reassured US allies that Washington will stand with them against Iranian policies in the region.

Esper also revealed that Washington would continue its  “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran to prevent Iranian authorities from spreading further chaos.

“Tehran keeps violating international resolutions by delivering banned weapons to groups such as Hezbollah and the Houthis,” Esper added.

Meanwhile, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said his country is ready to conduct a “full prisoner exchange” with Washington, during a virtual address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Since the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal two years ago, Washington has imposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, targeting senior officials in the Iranian government and security forces.

Washington says that Iran is involved in malign activities across the region and its nuclear programme is intended for the development of weaponry.

The landmark 2015 nuclear deal was signed between Iran on the one side and US, Russia, Germany, France, UK and China on the other. The deal was designed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief.

However, the deal began to unravel in May 2018 when US President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the deal unilaterally, arguing the agreement did not guarantee Iran would not obtain nuclear weapons and that Iran was destabilizing the Middle East through armed proxy groups across the region. Trump has said more than once that the deal needs to be renegotiated to include Iran’s ballistic missiles program and regional behavior.

The global financial dominance of the US dollar has meant the deal’s European, Russian and Chinese signatories have been able to do little to alleviate pressure on Iran’s economy from Washington’s crushing sanctions.

In response, Iran has begun a gradual abandonment of its commitments to the nuclear deal – moves that Iran has argued are reversible if sanctions relief is provided.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington  spiked following the US drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, and Iran’s retaliatory fire of ballistic missiles at US bases in January.

In response, the United States deployed Patriot air defense batteries to Iraqi bases to protect American troops from Iranian missiles, as well as rocket attacks by Iranian-backed armed groups inside Iraq. Source