Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday blasted the Trump administration for placing sanctions on the country’s supreme leader, saying, “The White House is suffering from intellectual disability” and calling the sanctions “outrageous and idiotic.”
In response to Iran shooting down a US military surveillance drone last week, President Donald Trump imposed harsh new sanctions targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior officials. But the administration also reiterated that it is open to negotiating with the Islamic Republic without any preconditions.
Rouhani, though, made it clear on Tuesday that the sanctions on the supreme leader mean at this point Iran doesn’t even want to talk to the Trump administration about the weather. And a spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry noted the day before that the new measures meant “a permanent closure of the path to diplomacy.”
Trump didn’t take too kindly to those statements, tweeting Tuesday morning that “Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force.”
....Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & Obama!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2019
So it seems the sanctions have only served to further escalate the situation. If Trump’s plan was to penalize Iran to the point it had to negotiate with his administration, that appears to have backfired.
What the new Iran sanctions target
After President Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal last year, he reimposed previously lifted sanctions on the country that target areas like banking and steel. Perhaps the most crushing of the more than 1,000 penalties are the ones on Iran’s oil sector. The US aims to bring Tehran’s oil exports — the lifeblood of the country’s economy — down to zero.
On Monday, though, he went directly after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s roughly $95 billion in assets. That was certain to anger the leader, who already was skeptical about entering into diplomatic talks with the Trump administration, though it’s unlikely that the sanctions on Khamenei will actually have a big impact on his personal finances.
While he’s very wealthy, much of his money is out of the reach of the international financial system, Cailin Birch, a global economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told me. That means Trump’s new penalties are likely more theater than actual substance.
“The latest round of US sanctions will have a very limited impact on Iran’s real economy,” she continued. “The Trump administration’s move is therefore more political and symbolic than anything else.”
In other words, the US may have ruined any chance of engaging in diplomacy with Iran in the near future with an ineffective play. That’s potentially scary, as now there may not be an off-ramp for Washington and Iran to avoid further escalations.