The announcement by the US Department of the Treasury on Monday coincided with the 40th anniversary of the seizure of Washington’s embassy in Tehran, and it came as Iran announced it was taking another step away from the crumbling 2015 nuclear deal in the face of Washington’s withdrawal last year.
The Treasury said among the nine people sanctioned were also Khamenei’s chief of staff, the head of the judiciary and senior military figures. It said it also blacklisted Iran‘s Armed Forces General Staff.
Later on Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi described the sanctions “a sign of the desperation and inability of this regime in benefiting from a diplomatic and logical approach” to important international issues, according to the official IRNA news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said the sanctions were seen as “meaningless” by Iranian officials.
“They say the sanctions are more of a symbolic gesture because these figures have never really set foot in the United States, let alone have any financial dealings with the US, but the gesture shows that the US doesn’t really understand how to deal with Tehran.”
Tehran and Washington have been at odds since 52 Americans were held hostage at the embassy for 444 days, from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981. Tensions spiked last year after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear accordand reinstated sanctions to choke Iran’s oil exports and isolate its economy as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran to force it to renegotiate a new deal.
In June, Trump signed an executive order imposing new sanctions on Iran’s top leadership, including Khamenei, in a move denounced by Iran as “useless” and signalling “the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy”.
Separately on Monday, the US Department of State announced a new rewardof up to $20m for information that leads to the location and return of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who was last seen in Iran.
New sanctions aim to impose more limits on Khamenei’s inner circle, an administration official said.
“Our action is specifically focused on further targeting the financial assets of the supreme leader’s inner circle of both military and foreign affairs advisors,” a senior administration official said in a call with reporters to discuss the sanctions.
US sanctions block any US-controlled property or interests held by those targeted, and prohibit anyone or any entities in the US from dealing with those sanctioned.
Those targeted by the US sanctions include Khamenei’s chief of staff, Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, as well as Vahid Haghanian, who the department said “has been referred to as the Supreme Leader’s right hand”.
Ebrahim Raisi, who Khamenei appointed in March 2019 to lead Iran’s judiciary, and Mojtaba Khamenei, Khamenei’s second son, were also sanctioned, the Treasury Department said.