BRUSSELS—The European Union has called for an “immediate de-escalation” of tensions in the Middle East as the U.S. government announced new “hard-hitting” sanctions on Iran.
The sanctions will be applied to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office, denying Iranian officials access to “billions of dollars” of financial assets, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Monday. President Trump accused Khamenei of being ‘’ultimately responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime.” Sanctions will also be imposed on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Hitting back, Zarif wrote on Twitter that hawkish politicians close to Trump “despise diplomacy, and thirst for war”. Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, described the situation to media as “very dangerous” while the UN Security Council held closed consultations on the rising tensions between the US and Iran. He added that the US should deescalate tensions by stopping its “military adventurism” in the region and ending “economic warfare against the Iranian people”.
Trump said the sanctions were a response to the shooting down of a US drone “and many other things,” but Mnuchin said the executive order was in the works before the drone was shot down. Signing the executive order, President Trump said: “We do not seek conflict with Iran or any other country. I can only tell you we cannot ever let Iran have a nuclear weapon.”
Tensions are growing in the Middle East after a US cyber offensive disabled computer systems that control rocket and missile launchers in Iran. The attacks came in retaliation for Iran’s alleged shooting of a US drone in international airspace.
An EU foreign affairs spokesperson called for “urgent restraint” on all sides.
“Exclusively diplomatic routes are needed to resolve differences,” said the spokesperson.
The UN Security Council issued a statement after consultations that said: “The Council members urge concerned parties and all countries in the region to exercise maximum restraint and take measures and actions to reduce escalation and end tension.” The Council also condemned the attacks on oil tankers in the Middle East.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Saudi Arabia yesterday, before arriving in the UAE last night, as he attempts to build a united front against Iran. In Saudi Arabia Pompeo met with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. In the UAE he met with Crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed.