The US has warned Tehran of “severe consequences” if it acts against dozens of American politicians and military chiefs the regime identified as targets, and said Washington would “protect and defend its citizens”.
On Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, a Democrat, slammed Iran’s “purported” attempt to place sanctions on about 50 prominent Americans and said the government would stand behind all US citizens, regardless of their political stance.
The previous day, Iran said more than 50 Americans would be penalised in response to the 2020 killing of General Qassem Suleimani in a drone strike. Given the lack of Iranian assets held by those listed, the move was largely symbolic.
“Make no mistake: the United States of America will protect and defend its citizens,” Mr Sullivan said.
“This includes those serving the US now and those who formerly served. As Americans, we have our disagreements on politics. We have our disagreements on Iran policy. But we are united in our resolve against threats and provocations.”
Mr Sullivan said Tehran had imposed the sanctions as its “proxy militias continue to attack American troops in the Middle East” and as Iranian officials threaten to launch “terror operations” in the US and beyond.
“We will work with our allies and partners to deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran,” he said.
“Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 52 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences.”
On Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the Americans faced sanctions for what it called “terrorism” and human rights breaches, and that Iranian authorities could seize any assets they held in the country.
They were chosen for “their role in the terrorist crime by the US against the martyred General Qassem Suleimani and his companions and the promotion of terrorism and violations of fundamental human rights”.
Suleimani was the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the overseas arm of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
He was assassinated in Baghdad, Iraq, in a drone strike on January 3, 2020, ordered by US president Donald Trump, a Republican.
Those added to Iran’s sanctions list included US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former White House national security advisor Robert O’Brien and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley.
Ms Haley and others took to social media to mock the move as ineffective.
“Looks like I’ll have to cancel my relaxing getaway to Iran,” she posted on Twitter on Sunday.
She previously said being a target of Tehran for asset seizures was a “badge of honour”.
Last year, Tehran imposed sanctions on Mr Trump and several top US officials over what it called “terrorist” acts. Speaking last week on the second anniversary of Suleimani’s death, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Mr Trump must yet face justice for the strike.
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Iranian officials, politicians and companies after withdrawing Washington in 2018 from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major world powers.
Iran and the US are holding indirect talks in Vienna to salvage the 2015 pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
On Friday, France said negotiators were making progress but that time to revive the deal was running out.