WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump ordered new retaliatory economic sanctions on Iran Friday, even as his administration faced persistent questions over its drone strike on an Iranian general that helped ignite the latest crisis with the Islamic Republic.
President Trump issued an executive order adding additional U.S. sanctions to an already long list his administration has imposed, aiming to force Iran to accept a new agreement that would curb its nuclear program and halt support for militant groups throughout the Middle East.
The president, in a statement announcing the new measures, referenced Iran's nuclear program and use of proxy forces throughout the region while noting that the Iranians have threatened U.S. service members, diplomats and civilians — an apparent reference to his administration's justification for killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike last week in Baghdad.
“The United States will continue to counter the Iranian regime's destructive and destabilizing behavior,” he said.
But President Trump and his administration faced continuing questions over its claims of an “imminent” threat as justification for killing Soleimani.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in the administration have said the threat posed by Soleimani was imminent, but they have not offered evidence to support that. Members of Congress said officials did not provide sufficient detail or justification in briefings this week.
Define what you mean by imminent? Pompeo was asked at Friday's White House session.
“I don’t know exactly which minute," Pompeo said. "We don’t know exactly which day it would have been executed, but it was very clear. Qassem Soleimani himself was plotting a broad, large-scale attack against American interests and those attacks were imminent.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the killing of Soleimani “provocative and disproportionate.”
The new sanctions were in immediate response to Iran's firing of a barrage of missiles at American bases in neighboring Iraq this week in response to the killing of Soleimani. No one was injured. The larger U.S. goal is to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement on limiting its nuclear program.
In 2018, President Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement signed under President Barack Obama that traded curbs on the program for the easing of sanctions. Since then, the administration has added additional economic measures that have created hardship in Iran and brought its oil revenue to historic lows but have failed to bring the Iranian government to the negotiating table.
The sanctions added Friday include measures aimed at eight senior Iranian officials involved in what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called “destabilizing” activities throughout the Middle East as well as Tuesday's missile barrage.
Additional sanctions target anyone involved in the Iranian textile, construction, manufacturing or mining sectors. They will also impose separate sanctions against the steel and iron sectors.
“As a result of these actions we will cut off billions of dollars of support to the Iranian regime,” the treasury secretary said.