On May 8, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would no longer participate in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Better known as the Iran nuclear deal, JCPOA is an agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) plus Germany together with the European Union. Following that decision, all U.S. secondary sanctions on Iran were reimposed as of November 6, 2018.
The reinstatement of sanctions drove Iran’s economy into a severe recession as significant companies left Iranian markets. According to a January 24, 2020 U.S. Congressional Research Service report, sanctions against Iran have been an important component of U.S. policy since 1979. This report states that, “Sanctions are at the core of the Trump Administration policy to apply ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran with the stated purpose of compelling Iran to negotiate a revised JCPOA that takes into account the broad range of U.S. concerns about Iran.”
On January 30, 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury stated: “Today, in its most significant ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned more than 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels […]. This brings to more than 900 the number of Iran-related targets sanctioned under this administration in less than two years, marking the highest-ever level of U.S. economic pressure on Iran.”
In the above-mentioned Congressional Research Service report Iranian banks are “involved in terrorism financing; Iran’s ballistic missile advances; and whether Iran continues to support terrorism.” According to a November 5, 2018 U.S. Department of Treasury press release, “More than 70 Iran-linked financial institutions and their foreign and domestic subsidiaries were designated or identified and placed on the SDN [Specially Designated Nationals] List.
Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker said: “This action is aimed at cutting off Iranian banks that facilitate Iran’s domestic repression and foreign adventurism from the international financial system, and will highlight for the world the true nature of the regime’s abuse of its domestic banking system.”
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin told CNBC: “We are intent on making sure the Iranian regime stops siphoning its hard currency reserves into corrupt investments and the hands of terrorists.” Mnuchin outlined 17 specific sanctions against Iran’s most extensive steel and iron manufacturers, along with three entities based in the Seychelles and a shipping vessel involved in the transfer of products.
According to the January 29, 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, a report of the U.S. intelligence community, “Iran also continues to develop its own increasingly more advanced naval mines, small submarines, and attack craft.” The report adds that “Iran’s nuclear and missile programs might have advanced faster were sanctions not imposed.”
U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook emphasized that the Trump administration will continue its maximum pressure campaign in 2020. Hook said the Islamic Republic is facing the worst financial crisis and political unrest in its 40-year history and will face an even more challenging period this year.
According to a May 23, 2019 report from Jay Solomon, adjunct fellow with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy “Iran has commenced weekly flights to Caracas, potentially to ferry military supplies to Maduro. Meanwhile, Lebanese Hezbollah and Cuba have deployed a network of intelligence officials to help him maintain control of the military and the streets.” Venezuela and Iran have increased business ties to try to circumvent international sanctions, Solomon explains. “Washington’s biggest fear is that Hezbollah will use Venezuela’s financial and political turmoil to increase its drug revenues at a time when Iranian support for the group has been sharply curtailed,” he added.
The New York Post reported that mosques in Venezuela started popping up, while daily flights between Caracas and Tehran carried suspicious cargo, including arms. Martin Arostegui, a Voice of America reporter, said: “Iran joined Russia, Cuba, and Turkey in declaring support for [Nicolás] Maduro after President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. recognition from his government and threw his weight behind parliamentary leader Juan Guaidó in February . The U.S. administration has toughened sanctions and threatened to intervene militarily to topple the Maduro administration.”