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U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Iran In Response To Missile Test


First President Trump put Iran on notice. Now the administration is adding sanctions. Officials say these are just the first steps in responding to what they call provocative behavior by Iran. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on what's new about this approach and what's not.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When the Obama administration and other world powers negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. officials made clear they would push back against bad behavior that was not covered in the agreement. Critics argued that Obama didn't really hold Iran's feet to the fire, and President Trump spokesman Sean Spicer says this administration will.


SEAN SPICER: Today's sanctions really represent a very, very strong stand against the actions that Iran has been taking and make it very clear that the deal that they struck private - previously was not in the best interests of this country, and that President Trump is going to do everything he can to make sure that Iran has stayed in check.

KELEMEN: The sanctions were put in place to respond to Iran's ballistic missile test on Sunday which prompted the White House to put Iran, quote, "on notice." Today the Treasury Department added 25 individuals and companies in Iran, China, the UAE and Lebanon to a blacklist that was created years ago. And Spicer says the administration was able to move quickly because the legwork was already done, including by officials who worked with President Obama.


SPICER: They were in the pipeline. They had been staffed and approved. And the president made the decision that now was the time to do it based on recent action.

KELEMEN: Iran is threatening to retaliate, calling the sanctions a violation of previous agreements. Some Iran watchers worry that the Trump administration is on a dangerous path of escalation with its tough talk and new sanctions and no apparent diplomatic approach. But Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department official, says it is Iran that has been acting more aggressively since it agreed to the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - or JCPOA - and he thinks the sanctions make sense.

MATTHEW LEVITT: You need to be careful how you use these tools, but I don't think that this is going to undermine the JCPOA. And I don't think that our allies are going to take issue with this so long as these designations continue to be based on facts, evidence-based, with good press releases underscoring why these activities were targeted.

KELEMEN: Levitt, who's with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says other countries may not follow suit, but international banks pay attention to Treasury Department lists and could cut their ties.

LEVITT: These entities that were designated - persons, businesses - those will find their way onto the, you know, scrub lists of banks around the world. If there's a sense that the Trump administration is designating entities haphazardly, that may not continue to be the case.

KELEMEN: Levitt says he's heard that more sanctions are already in the pipeline. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.