US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed on Sunday to initiate “further actions” against Iran on the anniversary of Tehran’s violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.
“The United States will continue to promote accountability by announcing further actions against the agents of repression later this week to bring a measure of justice to the Iranian people, the longest-suffering victims of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr Pompeo said in a statement on November 15 commemorating the 2019 protests.
While it remains unclear what the additional US actions will entail, the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump has sought to build a “sanctions wall” that aims to make it as difficult as possible politically for Joe Biden, the president-elect to fulfil his campaign pledge to re-enter the nuclear deal.
Elliott Abrams, the US special envoy for Iran and Venezuela, visited the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel last week to co-ordinate additional sanctions on Iran during the lame-duck portion of Mr Trump’s presidency.
Mr Pompeo himself will visit all three countries as well as Qatar later this week as part of a regional tour.
The Trump administration has already slapped additional designations on Iranian entities that it had re-sanctioned after withdrawing from the nuclear deal in 2018.
The Iranian Petroleum Ministry, the National Iranian Oil Company, and the National Iranian Tanker Company were already subjected to sanctions, but the Treasury Department issued new designations on all three entities in the past month under counter-terrorism authorities for their ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran hawks within the administration, including Mr Abrams hope that adding additional designations under counter-terrorism and non-proliferation authorities will make it politically difficult for Mr Biden to undo the sanctions, effectively stymying any bid to re-enter the nuclear accord.
Human rights sanctions applied after Tehran’s bloody response to last year’s anti-government protests could serve a similar purpose.
Iranian authorities killed about 1,500 protesters in the initial wave of demonstrations that began last year in response to an increase in fuel prices. Tehran continued to crack down on the protests in the months that followed.
“Thousands of protesters remain in prison, where they are reportedly subjected to flogging, electrical shocks, starvation, beatings, sexual assault and rape, and other acts of torture,” said Mr Pompeo. “Family members of victims are thrown in jail for advocating on behalf of their loved ones.”