Relations between the United States and Iran continued to worsen this week. While President Trump has reiterated his own openness to working with the Iranian government to deescalate tensions, his administration’s imposition of further economic sanctions offers a different story. Friday’s sanctions are the harshest yet, targeting Iran’s largest petrochemical company, Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC), as well as 39 of its subsidiaries and foreign sales agents.
Officials from the Trump administration give as the reason for Friday’s sanctions PGPIC’s financial support of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Associated Press reports that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin emphasised the ties between Iran’s petrochemical industry and the IRGC. “By targeting this network, we intend to deny funding to key elements of Iran’s petrochemical sector that provide support to the IRGC,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “This action is a warning that we will continue to target holding groups and companies in the petrochemical sector and elsewhere that provide financial lifelines to the IRGC.” Reuters reports that other Trump administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, describe these latest sanctions as part of a larger economic attack against Iran, an attempt to deprive the nation of one of its largest revenue sources.
These sanctions are part of a wider approach towards Iran, which U.S. officials describe as “maximum pressure”. This policy pursued the American withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord, which sought to limit Iran’s nuclear program to civilian application. As part of this policy, in May, the United States labelled Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a “terrorist organization”. A branch of the Iranian Armed Forces, the IRGC has extensive links to the Iranian government, particularly the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum. Reuters reported that the Ministry provided the IRGC with 10 projects in the petrochemical industry, which is worth $22 billion. By designating the IRGC as a “terrorist organization”, U.S. officials opened the way for sanctions to deprive the group of such funding.
Friday’s sanctions come amidst increasing U.S. military presence in the region. The USS Abraham Lincoln was positioned around 200 miles off the Iranian Coast on Saturday. Earlier this year, the United States deployed several B-52 bombers and Patriot missile systems to the region. This show of force has two goals: reassure the U.S. allies in the region and force Iran to the negotiation table. It is, however, failing with the latter. Instead, the increased military presence and the harshening of sanctions are solidifying Iranian opposition to the United States.
These ongoing sanctions, coming days after President Trump’s apparent willingness to negotiate, have made Iranian officials less trustworthy of the United States. In doing so, the likelihood of a diplomatic resolution to the current situation has been reduced. While U.S. deployment of military personnel may comfort U.S. allies in the region, it contributes to a culture of brinkmanship in the region, which must be stopped. Tensions may very quickly escalate, and a war in the region would be unacceptable. The human and economic cost of another conflict in the Middle East is unthinkable.