President Donald Trump has imposed yet more sanctions on Iran, adding to the restrictions that followed his administration’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
But who will the latest sanctions hit, how will they work, and what does it mean for ordinary Iranians?
The US hopes ever-increasing economic pressure will force Iran to give up its ambition for nuclear weapons, but Tehran has waved away the latest measures as “useless”.
Why were the latest sanctions imposed?
Iran says it will possess over 300kg of low-enriched uranium by Thursday, in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal brokered by President Barack Obama. Separately, Iran is threatening the remaining signatories, including those in Europe, that it will begin enriching its uranium closer to weapons-grade levels unless it gets better terms.
Washington wants to prevent Iran from doing this, and is responding to the shooting down last week of a US drone.
Who do they target?
Trump’s executive order is aimed at a handful of figures within Iran’s leadership, rather than ordinary Iranians who have already been hit by decades of economic financial instability.
It imposes sanctions on the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, and a slew of commanders in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“These commanders sit atop a bureaucracy that supervises … malicious regional activities, including its provocative ballistic missile program, harassment and sabotage of commercial vessels in international waters, and its destabilizing presence in Syria,” the US Treasury said.
Sanctions work by outlawing trade with a particular country or person, or limiting their access to financial markets and payment systems. The order warns any bank that “knowingly facilitates a significant financial transaction” for any of the listed officials could be cut off from the US financial system.
Will they work in practice?
Previous rounds of sanctions have been very effective in weakening Tehran. About 80% of Iran’s economy is already sanctioned, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This includes virtually all of its oil exports as well as petrochemicals and metals.
Since the reimposition of sanctions in 2018, the export of oil has “fallen to particularly low levels … and is having a serious economic impact on revenue,” said Cailin Birch, Global Economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit. In addition, the oil it does sell is being exported at a significantly discounted rate.
The value of Iran's currency has plummeted by around 60% in the last year, and inflation is up 37% according to government figures.
More than three million people are unemployed, equating to 12% of working-age citizens. That rate doubles for educated youth.
However, it seems the new sanctions imposed on Monday are more about symbolism than the outcome. For a start, it is far from clear whether Khamenei or any of the IRGC commanders listed in the executive order even have any US-linked assets. Iran’s regime has also been through several rounds of sanctions in recent decades so has limited economic ties with US partners.
“It has been too dangerous for firms in the financial sector to do business with Iran for more than a year so the threat to cut these individuals off from the US financial system would seem to be more symbolic rather than anything that would have a measurable impact,” Birch said.
It does, however, send a message to ordinary Iranians that America's issue is not with their country, but its leadership.
Will they force Iran back to the negotiating table?
Trump’s tactic of applying maximum pressure on countries to force them into accepting better terms has had some success, Birch said, such as with important US economic partners who are heading into trade talks.
But it is unlikely to work with Iran’s leaders. “They’ve shown in previous rounds that they don’t negotiate under duress,” she said. “It has been the one clear lesson to draw from their activity on the international stage.
"It worked a little with Mexico, it didn’t work with North Korea or China and it is not going to work with Iran. I cannot see it being successful.”
Instead, the escalating rhetoric and White House policy confusion is likely to continue. Trump’s “obliteration” threat contradicts his promise not to take the US into costly foreign wars and also brings an underlying risk of miscalculation on both sides.