White House teases vague new Iran sanctions over Israel attack

WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday that President Biden would impose new sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone programs following Tehran’s weekend attack on Israel.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made a vague announcement about the penalties amid bipartisan pressure to take action and forcefully enact existing sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

“In the coming days, the United States will impose new sanctions targeting Iran, including its missile and drone program as well as new sanctions against entities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s Defense Ministry,” Sullivan said in a statement.

“These new sanctions and other measures will continue a steady drumbeat of pressure to contain and degrade Iran’s military capacity and effectiveness and confront the full range of its problematic behaviors.”

Sullivan wrote that under Biden, the US has imposed sanctions on “over 600 individuals and entities connected to terrorism, terrorist financing and other forms of illicit trade, horrific human rights abuses, and support for proxy terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Kataib Hezbollah.”

But critics in Congress have slammed Biden for easing up on former President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign,” which sought to starve Iran’s government of funds that could be used for nuclear technology and armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Yemen.

Israeli officials say that nobody was killed by Iran’s barrage of 320 missiles and drones Sunday morning local time, but that a 7-year-old Arab girl was seriously injured.

The attack was in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria, on April 1 that reportedly killed 16 people.

The American and Israeli militaries shot down most of the Iranian explosives before they reached their targets.

Biden is not expected to target Iran’s oil exports in new sanctions, Reuters reported Tuesday, a move likely to spark fresh congressional backlash.

In September, Biden agreed to release $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil proceeds held by South Korea in exchange for the release from prison of five Iranian-American inmates.

The funds were to be held by Qatar for Iran to purchase items such as food and medicine.

But the US and Qatar reportedly reached a “quiet agreement” in October to pause the distribution of funds and it’s unclear what the current status of the money is.

In November, however, the US agreed to issue a sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to pay Iran for electricity, which Republicans in Congress say will allow Iran access to $10 billion.

That waiver was reissued last month.

A bipartisan congressional group in January asked Biden to enforce US sanctions on Iranian oil sales — especially to China — after they surged since he took office, now roughly doubling the country’s annual exports in 2019 and 2020.

“Iran now exports more than 1.4 million barrels of crude oil daily, over 80% of which goes to China. From February 2021 to October 2023, the regime has taken at least $88 billion from these illicit oil exports,” wrote the group of 62 House members, including prominent Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California.

“Iran is deriving significant economic benefits from pervasive sanctions evasion, with Iran’s annual economic growth increasing by more than four percent and net foreign currency reserves up by 45 percent,” the bipartisan group wrote.

“It was reported earlier this year that the administration scaled back enforcement efforts against Iranian oil shipments as part of negotiations with Iran. We believe this policy must be reversed.”

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