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November 21, 2020

Trump admin sanctions Iran, defends Maximum Pressure campaign

Pre BF ClearOn the one-year anniversary of Tehran's bloody crackdown on protesters, the Trump administration leveled a slew of new sanctions against Iran while defending its sanctions regime as critical to protecting the region and American lives from the Middle Eastern country's "malign activities."

The Treasury and the U.S. State Department on Wednesday blacklisted groups and individuals associated with the government's tactics to squelch mass protests that erupted throughout the country against a hike to gasoline prices in November of 2019.

Amnesty International has said Iranian forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, killed more than 300 people during the November protests, 220 of who lost their lives on Nov. 16 and 17 alone.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he designated Brig. Gen. Heidar Abbaszadeh and Col. Reza Papi of the IRGC "for their involvement by operation of command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights, namely the flagrant denial of the right to life in connection with the violent suppression of protests by security forces in November 2019." The move blocks them and their immediate family from entry to the United States.

The Treasury also sanctioned Mahmoud Alavi, Iran's minister of intelligence and security, for having played a central role in committing human rights abuses against the Iranian people, including during last winter's protests.

Ministry of Intelligence and Security "agents are responsible for beatings, sexual abuse, prolonged interrogations and coerced confessions of prisoners, particularly political prisoners," the Treasury said. "MOIS has employed mock executions and forms of sexual violence in its interrogations of prisoners, and its agents have arrested and detained members of the Baha'i religion without charges."

The Treasury also imposed sanctions against an Iranian charity linked to the country's so-called supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and nearly a third of its 160 holdings.

Called the Islamic Revolution Mostazafan Foundation, the organization is ostensibly a charity charged with helping the poor and oppressed. However, the Treasury says its holdings were "expropriated from the Iranian people and are used by the supreme leader Ali Khamenei to enrich his office, reward his political allies and persecute the regime's enemies."

The sanctions were imposed against the foundation, 50 of its key industry subsidiaries and 10 of its leading officials.

The State Department described the foundation in a statement as "a key agency of regime oppression and corruption" with many of its subsidiaries having been confiscated from Iran's religious Baha'i and Jewish minority citizens.

"The foundation is involved with human rights abusers, those involved with the regime's support for terrorism and organizations involved in the brutal killings last November," Pompeo said.

The sanctions are part of the Trump administration's Maximum Pressure campaign to force Tehran back into negotiations on a new nuclear weapons deal after President Donald Trump in 2018 slapped sanctions against the Middle Eastern country and pulled the United States out of an Obama-era multination accord aimed at preventing it from gaining an atomic bomb.

Relations between Tehran and Washington have since escalated with Iran retaliating by reneging on its commitments in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, Pompeo defended his sanctions regime against Iran as being "extraordinarily effective," seemingly arguing for their continuity into the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

"The Maximum Pressure campaign is working, sanctions will continue and the United States will not hesitate to impose painful consequences on those who engage in sanctionable activity," he said. "Throughout the coming weeks and months, we will impose new sanctions on Iran, including using our nuclear, counterterrorism and human rights authorities, each reflecting the wide range of malign behavior that continues to emanate from the Iranian regime."

Though Trump has yet to concede defeat in the general election and Pompeo has said there will be a second Trump term, the statement was issued on the same day Iran indicated it will try to convince the incoming Biden administration to rejoin the nuclear pact.

Biden has also derided Trump's Iran policy and said in an Op-ed published in September by CNN that he would rejoin the accord "if Iran returns to strict compliance."

Pompeo argued Wednesday that the sanctions have deprived Tehran of tens of billions of dollars that could have gone to carry out "its malign activities" and that Iran wants the United States to re-enter the JCPOA in order for sanctions to be lifted "in exchange of modest nuclear limitations."

"The regime desperately needs an economic lifeline. For that reason, they make two arguments: sanctions are useless and ineffective; or, in the alternative, when sanctions are effective they hurt only the Iranian people and not the regime; either way they should be removed," he said. "The regime's greatest fear is that sanctions will remain."

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