Palestinians Reject Economic Solutions From ‘Punitive’ US

Palestinian leaders accused the Trump administration of punishing them with one hand and offering to reward them with the other, as protesters turned out in the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday to demonstrate against a U.S. economic peace plan.

At a U.S.-led conference in Bahrain U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner urged Palestinian leaders boycotting the event to think outside the “traditional box” and consider the $50 billion plan to boost the Palestinian and neighboring economies.

The event drew fiery criticism both within the Palestinian territories, where demonstrations broke out for a second day, and across the wider region, where many Arabs took aim at officials for taking part.

Palestinian officials said it was Trump who had inflicted further hardship on Palestinians, cutting hundreds of millions in aid to humanitarian organizations across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

“If the U.S. is so concerned about Palestinian well-being, then why did they carry out these punitive measures against us?,” senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi said in Ramallah.

“Why did they target Palestinian infrastructure? Why did they stop scholarships to Palestinian students?,” she asked. In August last year, Washington announced an end to all U.S. funding for the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees. The U.S. was UNRWA’s biggest donor by far up to that point, giving it $364 million in 2017.

And in February, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased all assistance to the Palestinians, to whom it provided $268 million in 2017.

The U.S. cuts were widely seen as a way of putting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to re-engage with the White House, which it has boycotted since Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017.

“The same team that cut 350 million dollars of aid to refugee camps … [goes] to Manama to say we have a brilliant plan to bring Palestinians a new chance, a new opportunity,” Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday in Jericho.

“Why would Palestinians say no to such [a] plan?,” he added, mockingly.

Gulf apart

Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian governments are attending the event at Manama’s luxury Four Seasons hotel, where international bureaucrats enjoyed cocktails and delicate pastries, mingling with Arab businessmen sporting gold Rolex watches.

Some Gulf Arab states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, voiced qualified support for Kushner’s plan, while Qatar sent top officials but made no public comment. Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab states with a peace deal with Israel, sent deputy ministers.

Many Arabs slammed their governments for taking part, describing the event as a sell-off of Palestinians’ rights without them present.

“The participation of Arab and Islamic countries in this conference of shame in Manama is unfortunate. .. Political courtesy does not justify this participation,” Qatar University professor of political sociology Majed al-Ansari said on Twitter.

Bahrain’s main opposition group, the outlawed Shi’ite Muslim al-Wefaq party, said hosting the event had brought shame on their country’s rulers, while Kuwait’s parliament said it would reject anything that comes out of the event.

Washington is hoping that wealthy Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar will bankroll much of the $50 billion plan, another potential sticking point unpopular with some opposed to the deal.

“The last thing we can imagine as Qatari citizens is for the wealth of our country and nation to contribute to the displacement of another Arab people,” Qatari Youth Against Normalization, a Qatari youth group, said in a statement.

Former Egyptian football star Mohamed Aboutrika took aim at FIFA head Gianni Infantino, who spoke in Manama about developing a sports sector in the Palestinian territories to drive economic growth.

“Thank you to everyone who boycotted this auction … the presence of the head of FIFA is a major question mark … our holy sites are not for sale,” Aboutrika wrote on Twitter.

Demonstrations

More than 1,500 km (930 miles) away in Gaza, where over half of the enclave’s two million people live in poverty, Palestinians criticized the Arab businessmen who attended for siding with the United States and Israel.

“Capitalists do not think of the poor,” said Abdel-Rahim Nateel, 62, who spent most of his life in the Beach refugee camp in northern Gaza.

“Let them come and give aid to the hungry people, make projects, ask Israel not to attack us … let them give us our state on the 1967 borders and we do not want anything else from them.”

Several thousand Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza on Wednesday, burning posters of Trump and his close ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “No to the conference of treason, no to the conference of shame,” read one banner.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, demonstrations against Bahrain were light for a second day. Some Palestinians voiced a sense of exhaustion about peace efforts and promises of cash and prosperity.

“This conference is just like all others from the past, Arab conferences, American conferences. All of them have been at the Palestinians’ expense,” said Hamdallah Qasem, 72, who lives in Ramallah.

Their own leadership was not exempt from criticism, however. At an Israeli military checkpoint separating Palestinian villages from the neighboring Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, several Palestinian day laborers said President Mahmoud Abbas was hurting the local economy by boycotting the conference.

“If he was struggling like the rest of our people, maybe he would participate. As long as boycotting doesn’t hit his wallet, he will never change his position,” said Nasser, who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution.

Yara Hawari, a policy analyst based in Ramallah, said the low turnout at protests was due to a sense of fatigue at international initiatives from which they saw little chance of changing their situation.

“There are certain topics that mobilize Palestinians more than others — like Jerusalem. This ‘economic peace’ is just more of the same. They see it as empty talk,” Hawari said.


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Trump Heads to Japan for G-20 Summit

Just a month after a state visit to Japan, U.S. President Donald Trump is heading to the East Asian country again.

In Osaka, Trump will attend the Group of 20 leaders’ summit, during which he is scheduled to meet one-on-one on the sidelines with such fellow world leaders as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Before leaving Wednesday, Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn that he’ll be meeting with leaders of a lot of different countries “many of whom have been taking advantage of the United States — but not anymore.”

A senior administration official told reporters Monday that Trump is “quite comfortable [with] his position going into the meeting” with China’s President Xi following the breakdown of U.S.-China trade talks and increased tariffs on Beijing by Washington.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at the State Council’s meeting in Moscow, Russia, June 26, 2019.

U.S. officials say there is no fixed agenda for Trump’s meeting with Putin although they acknowledge issues involving Iran, Ukraine, the Middle East and Venezuela are almost certain to be discussed. 

When asked Wednesday if he would ask Putin not to meddle in future U.S. elections, Trump said it was “none of your business.”

Casting a pall over the G-20 discussions will be nervousness about the deteriorating situation between Washington and Tehran. Leaders in both capitals have been reiterating they want to avoid war but have also repeatedly stated they will not hesitate to defend their interests if provoked.

Economic pressure on Iran

Trump is to stress to his fellow leaders at the G-20 that the United States intends to continue to increase economic pressure on Iran, which finds itself under escalating U.S. sanctions, and eliminate all of the country’s petroleum exports. 

“I don’t think Iran is a distraction,” according to James Jay Carafano, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s national security and foreign policy institute. “I think that’s under control. Trump should strive for a no drama G-20.”  

The G-20 itself no longer has the significance it did after the group’s first several summits late in the previous decade when it cooperated to avert a meltdown of the global economy.

Trump prefers bilateral discussions and agreements over multinational events. Administration officials, however, are attempting to counter the notion that they no longer see these types of meetings as vital, pointing to U.S. leadership on advancing 21st century economic issues.

“We believe that G-20 economies need to work together to advance open, fair and market-based digital policies, including the free flow of data,” a senior administration official told reporters Monday on a conference call, also stressing promotion of women’s economic empowerment.

White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney walk from the Marine One helicopter as they depart Washington for the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, June 26, 2019.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, is to give a keynote address on the latter topic at a G-20 side event in Osaka.

G-20 host Shinzo Abe, as prime minister of Japan, and many European participants are trying to maintain the international system and its principles.

“This is where the absence of the U.S. is really harming it,” said Heather Conley, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and director of its Europe program. “We’re seeing the slow death of multilateralism in many respects. It’s a death by a thousand cuts.”

While the U.S. pulls back from such groups, the world is witnessing “the Chinese using international organizations so effectively to shape agendas,” said Conley, a former deputy assistant secretary of state.  
 
Trump-Xi meetings

Some analysts expect the Trump-Xi meeting in Osaka to be a repeat of their previous dinner last year in Buenos Aires, when the two leaders agreed to trade talks and tasked their trade ministers with reaching a deal within 90 days. 
 
“I think that that is the most likely outcome, that they’re going to reach some sort of accommodation, a truce like that and push this forward,” said Matthew Goodman, a CSIS senior vice president and senior adviser for Asian economics.  

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, June 25, 2019.

“It’s not going to solve the immediate problems,” contended Goodman, who previously served as director for international economics on the National Security Council staff, helping then-President Barack Obama prepare for G-20 and G-8 summits. “Even if we get a deal, it’s unlikely to solve some of the deep structural differences between us in the role of the state in the economy, the governance of technology and data.”

Much attention will also be on the Trump-Putin encounter.

“Whenever President Trump and President Putin meet there is a very strong [U.S.] domestic backlash after that meeting,” noted Conley. “In part, it’s because there’s a total lack of transparency about the topics of discussion and what the agenda is, and I think the president would have a better policy approach domestically if, again, there was clarity of what the agenda would be, that there would be people participating in that meeting — secretary of state, national security adviser and others.”  
 
Trump is also scheduled to hold talks in Osaka with leaders from Australia, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

From Japan, Trump flies to Seoul, where he will be hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss how to further ease tensions with North Korea.

White House officials brush off speculation Trump could meet on the Korean peninsula with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which would be their third encounter after summits in Singapore and Hanoi. And U.S. officials are not commenting on a possible presidential visit to the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas.

There is little pressure on Trump to make any breakthroughs during his visit to Japan and South Korea, according to Carafano. 

“I think the U.S. is in the driver’s seat with regards to both North Korea and China negotiations,” Carafano told VOA. “If they come to the table now, fine. If not, fine. Trump can wait until after the 2020 election.” 


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Mueller to Testify in Open Congressional Hearing

U.S. President Donald Trump blasted former special counsel Robert Mueller, who agreed to provide open testimony before congressional committees next month.

“The Mueller thing never stops,” Trump said on the White House South Lawn before his departure to the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan. “How many times do we have to hear it? It never ends,” Trump said, adding his often-repeated line of no obstruction and blaming the Democrats for “criminal activities,” calling it “the greatest hoax ever in the history of our country.”

The chairmen of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Rep. Adam Schiff, announced in a letter late Tuesday that Mueller would appear July 17, and that they and all Americans looked forward to hearing from him.

Mueller led a nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegations that Trump obstructed justice by trying to shut down the probe.

FILE – Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., center, flanked by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 14, 2018.

He issued a report, a redacted version of which was made public in April, that concluded the Trump campaign had not colluded with Russia during the election, but reached no conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice.

Trump has been highly critical of the process, repeatedly calling the investigation a “witch hunt.”  His reaction shortly after Tuesday’s announcement came in the form of a tweet: “Presidential Harassment!”

Mueller’s only public comments to this point have been at a news conference in May during which he read a prepared statement, but took no questions.

Nadler and Schiff had issued subpoenas seeking to compel Mueller to testify, explaining that while they noted the special counsel’s desire for his written report to stand on its own, the public deserves to hear directly about not only his conclusions but also the investigation itself.

“Americans have demanded to hear directly from the special counsel so they can understand what he and his team examined, uncovered, and determined about Russia’s attack on our democracy, the Trump campaign’s acceptance and use of that help, and President Trump and his associates’ obstruction of the investigation into the attack,” Nadler and Schiff said in their letter Monday.

House Democrats have sought not only the release of more of the information from the Mueller report, but have also continued to seek testimony from White House and Trump campaign officials to learn more about what took place during the election and the first portion of Trump’s term in office. Republicans have criticized the ongoing investigations, saying Congress needs to move on.

Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said he hopes Mueller’s appearance “marks an end to the political gamesmanship that Judiciary Democrats have pursued at great cost to taxpayers.”

“May this testimony bring to House Democrats the closure that the rest of America has enjoyed for months, and may it enable them to return to the business of legislating,” Collins said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi welcomed Mueller’s testimony, citing concerns about the next election and saying lawmakers have a “patriotic duty to follow the facts, so we can protect our democracy.”

“The Mueller Report revealed that the Russians waged a ‘sweeping and systematic’ attack on our elections, and America’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials have warned that the Russians will attack our elections again,” she said in a statement.  “Yet, sadly the President calls it a hoax, and suggests that he would welcome Russian interference again.”


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Ex-Trump Aide Manafort to Be Arraigned Thursday in New York

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, will be arraigned Thursday in a New York court in Manhattan on state criminal charges, after having been convicted last year on federal fraud charges.

Manafort, 70, is scheduled to appear before Justice Maxwell Wiley of the state Supreme Court at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT) Thursday, court spokesman Lucian Chalfen told Reuters.

Manafort faces 16 felony charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney. The state charges include mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records, and relate to alleged efforts by Manafort and others to obtain millions of dollars in loans on New York properties.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance made the indictment public in March, on the same day Manafort was sentenced on federal crimes.

Manafort is serving a 7 1/2-year federal sentence for tax fraud, bank fraud and other charges.

Federal prosecutors accused him of hiding $16 million from U.S. tax authorities that he earned as a consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, and then lying to banks to obtain $20 million in loans when the money dried up.

The federal charges stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top charges in the New York case.


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Report: US Special Counsel Mueller to Testify Before House Panels July 17

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who issued a report in April on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election,  will testify in open session before the House of Representatives Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on July 17, the panels’ Democratic chairmen said on Tuesday.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the judiciary panel, and Representative Adam Schiff, head of the intelligence panel, said in a joint statement that Mueller had agreed to testify after the two committees issued subpoenas on Tuesday.

This is a breaking story. Please check back for updates.


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US Confirms 200 Unaccompanied Minors Removed From CBP Facility

VOA’s Victoria Macchi contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON — More than 200 children held in a border facility described as unsafe and unsanitary last week were transferred to the care of another U.S. agency by Tuesday, U.S. health authorities confirmed.

In a statement emailed to VOA, U.S. Health and Human Services acknowledged it worked with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to remove 249 unaccompanied children from the CBP Clint Station facility in Texas.

The statement came after the Associated Press reported unsanitary living conditions and inadequate food and medical treatment at the facility.

The children held at Clint Station were those who crossed the border without authorization and without a guardian, and are referred to as “unaccompanied alien children,” or UACs.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, joined at left by Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, speaks with reporters following a meeting of fellow Democrats focusing on a path to emergency humanitarian aid to help migrant detained on the southwestern border.

While CBP is the agency that detains unauthorized border crossers, HHS generally takes custody of detained, unaccompanied children within 72 hours, as is mandated by law except for rare occasions in which a child is held by CBP for longer.

“UAC are waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children,” an HHS official told VOA.

The agency said it was able to expedite how soon children in its care were released to sponsors  often an extended family member, like a grandparent. A process that was taking 90 days in November 2018 was down to an average of 44 days in May, according to HHS.

But like other agencies working with children and families detained at the border, HHS and CBP are struggling to meet the demands of the recent increase in arrivals.

Trump “personally concerned”

Meanwhile, despite the confirmation from HHS that 249 children were removed from the Clint facility, media outlets reported that an official from CBP, who briefed reporters on Tuesday, said the government moved more than 100 children back to the same facility .

CBP drew criticism from human rights groups and federal lawmakers  over the AP report last week.

After signing an affordable housing executive order in the Oval Office on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was “personally concerned about the conditions” at border facilities after AP’s report. 

Trump said “A lot of these young children come from places that you don’t even want to know about, the way they’ve lived, the way they’ve been.” 

He also said his administration is trying to get Democrats to give “some humanitarian aid humanitarian money.”

CBP chief resigning

It is also unclear whether that report played a role in the announcement on Tuesday that the head of CBP, Acting Commissioner John Sanders, is resigning.

He will leave his post on July 5, a CBP official confirmed in an email to VOA.

The agency declined to provide further comment on the resignation.


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Europe Set to Experience Scorching Heat Wave This Week

A heat wave is set to descend upon Europe this week, weather so intense that a forecaster in Spain warned, “El infierno (hell) is coming.”

El infierno is coming. pic.twitter.com/j0iGEYF0ge

— Silvia Laplana (@slaplana_tve) June 24, 2019

The heat wave is expected to peak between Wednesday and Friday when temperatures are expected to top 40 degrees Celsius from Spain to Poland.

Authorities warned early summer heat waves are especially dangerous because people have not had to adapt to the higher temperatures.

French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said more than half of France is on alert for high temperatures. Public service announcements on TV, radio, and on buses and trains urged the French to keep an eye out for older family members and neighbors.

Most of France is under an orange alert, the second-highest level on the country’s heat scale. The scale was established after the 2003 heat wave killed some 15,000 people.  

The French Education Ministry ordered the national school exams to be postponed to next week. Paris city officials mobilized teams to hand out water to the homeless. The city also extended the hours for city pools, and set up thousands of misting tents and cooling rooms.

Authorities in Switzerland also raised that country’s alert to its second-highest level, especially for regions along the southern and northern borders with Italy and Germany.

Germany’s meteorological agency said temperatures Wednesday could break the current record in June of 38.5 Celsius.

Temperatures also soared in the Baltics, sending scores of people to lakes and rivers to cool down, leading to a spike in drownings. In Lithuania, where the highs reached 35.7 degrees Celsius, 27 people were reported to have drowned.

Heat waves are becoming more common across Europe and are expected to double in frequency by 2050, the French  meteorological agency says.


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Pompeo Hopes for Afghan Peace Deal Before September

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday during a visit to Afghanistan that the Trump administration is aiming for a peace deal in the war-ravaged country by September.

His visit came as American and Taliban negotiators are scheduled to meet in Qatar later this week (June 29) for the next round of talks in their months-long dialogue aimed at finding a political settlement to the Afghan war.

“I hope we have a peace deal before September 1st. That’s certainly our mission set,” Pompeo told reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul after his meetings with Afghan leaders. The country is due to hold presidential elections on September 28.

The U.S.-Taliban dialogue process is primarily focused on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan in return for assurances international terrorists will not be allowed to use Taliban-controlled areas for attacks against other countries.

The insurgent group controls or contests more than 50% of the Afghan territory and continues to inflict battlefield losses on U.S.-backed Afghan security forces,

“We have made real progress and are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists,” Pompeo noted.

He said discussions with the Taliban regarding foreign troop withdrawal have begun.  Pompeo also said insurgent claims that Washington has agreed to pull out of Afghanistan are not true.

“While we’ve made clear to the Taliban that we are prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear we have not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” Pompeo explained. He acknowledged the U.S.-Taliban discussions will be the basis for intra-Afghan peace and reconciliation talks.

Pompeo visited Kabul on a day when members of opposition groups held a large public gathering in the city to protest against extension given to President Ashraf Ghani by the country’s Supreme Court. They insisted Ghani’s constitutional five-year term ended in May and demanded the president must step down. The incumbent president is seeking re-election.

“We call upon the former president (Ghani) to withdraw his candidacy if he should continue to hold office as a caretaker president for the purpose of realization of the principles of justice and impartiality,” said a post-rally statement by the Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC).

Pompeo also emphasized the need for a credible Afghan presidential election.

“I urge the Afghan government, the Independent Election Commission, and all political stakeholders to take all necessary steps to ensure that the elections are credible,”  Pompeo stressed.


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US Plays Down Expectations of Trump-Xi Meeting

Top U.S. officials are saying no one should expect any major deals when President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet later this week at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

The officials say the main purpose of the meeting is to reach agreement to restart trade negotiations that broke off in May.

Eleven rounds of talks have failed to ease U.S. concerns over China’s massive trade surplus with the U.S. and alleged intellectual property theft. 

Trump has already threatened another $325 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, which would cover just about everything China exports to the U.S. that is not already covered by the current 25% tariff on $250 billion in Chinese imports.

China has slapped its own tariffs on U.S. products, including those produced by already financially strapped American farmers.

FILE – In this April 8, 2019, file photo, Boeing 737 Max aircraft are parked near a Boeing Co. production facility in Renton, Wash. From airplanes to fruit to wheat no other state will feel the effect of tariffs like Washington.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday in Beijing the meeting will hopefully “promote mutual trust” and “resolve some of the outstanding issues we are facing now.”

A senior U.S. official said Monday the meeting will provide Trump the chance to get China’s position on the escalating trade war. The official added Trump would be “comfortable with any outcome” of the meeting.

The U.S. has accused China of building a huge trade surplus with the U.S. while stealing technological and trade secrets. It alleges China demands U.S. businesses operating in China to give up some of that information if they want access to the Chinese market. 

China denies the charges and says the U.S. is trying to deny a competitor a piece of the global marketplace.


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Trump Imposes New Iran Sanctions Targeting Khamenei

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that new U.S. sanctions against Iran mark a permanent end to a diplomatic path for resolving tensions between the two countries.

“Imposing fruitless sanctions on Iran’s leadership and the chief of Iranian diplomacy mean the permanent closure of the road of diplomacy with the frustrated U.S. administration,” Abbas Mousavi wrote on Twitter.

He added that U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach is “destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security.”

The comments follow Trump’s move to impose what he called “hard-hitting” new financial sanctions against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and eight senior commanders in the Iranian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Trump signed an executive order Monday he said would curb access that Khamenei and Iran would have to world financial markets. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the action would “literally” lock up “tens and tens of billions of dollars” of Iranian assets.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gestures to a crowd at a June 4, 2019 ceremony in Tehran.

Mnuchin also said the United States could also target Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, one of Tehran’s best known figures on the world stage, with sanctions in the coming days.

Trump called his order a “strong and proportionate” American response to Tehran’s shoot-down last week of an unmanned U.S. drone, which Washington says occurred in international airspace near the Strait of Hormuz and Iran claims occurred over its airspace.

The U.S. leader said he imposed the sanctions because of a series of “belligerent acts” carried out by Iran, which U.S. officials say include Iran’s targeting of Norwegian and Japanese ships traversing the Strait of Hormuz with mine explosions days before the attack on the drone.

The executive order is aimed at pushing Tehran back to one-on-one talks with the U.S. over its nuclear weapons program after Trump last year withdrew from the 2015 international pact restraining Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Trump called the international deal negotiated by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, “a disaster.”

“We’d love to be able to negotiate a deal,” Trump said.

But he declared, “Never can Iran have a nuclear weapon,” adding, “They sponsor terrorism like no one’s seen before.”

He said, “I look forward to the day when sanctions can be lifted and Iran can be a peace-loving nation. The people of Iran are great people.”

Mnuchin said earlier sanctions imposed when Trump pulled out of the international agreement have been “highly effective in locking up the Iranian economy.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before a House Appropriations subcommittee, April 9, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

He said some of the sanctions Trump imposed Monday had been “in the works” before the drone was shot down, and some were being imposed because of the attack on the drone.

The Treasury Department headed by Mnuchin said that any foreign financial institution that engages in a “significant financial transaction” with the Iranians targeted by the sanctions could be cut off from U.S. financial deals.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the new sanctions as “significant” as he left Washington on Sunday for a trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to continue the Trump administration’s effort to build a coalition of allies to counter Iran. Pompeo met Monday with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“The world should know,” Pompeo said, “that we will continue to make sure it’s understood that this effort that we’ve engaged in to deny Iran the resources to foment terror, to build out their nuclear weapon system, to build out their missile program, we are going to deny them the resources they need to do that thereby keeping American interests and American people safe all around the world.”

Iran has defended its missile work as legal and necessary for its defense. Tehran has sought support from the remaining signatories to the 2015 agreement to provide the economic relief it wants, especially with its key oil exports as the U.S. has tightened sanctions in an attempt to cut off Iranian oil shipments.


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