Updated Sep 20, 2019

Trump says U.S. will impose "highest sanctions ever" on Iran's central bank

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani (L) and President Trump. Photo: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images; Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday that he had issued the "highest sanctions ever imposed on a country" on Iran's central bank.

The backdrop: His statement comes after he tweeted earlier this week that he had instructed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to "substantially" increase sanctions against Iran. Beyond Trump's statement in the Oval, the administration has not released any further details.

Why it matters: Both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Saudis have blamed Iran for the attacks, though officials are still investigating. Iranian officials have warned the U.S. that they are prepared to respond to any attack from the U.S. or Saudi Arabia, the Washington Post reports.

The state of play: The Pentagon plans to release a report about the perpetrators of the Saudi oil attacks by Thursday.

  • Pompeo was meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Emirati Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Wednesday to discuss the attacks and "coordinate efforts against 'Iranian aggression,'" per Reuters.
  • Saudi Arabia has joined a "U.S.-led naval coalition to secure the Mideast's waterways," according to AP.

What he's saying: Pompeo ramped up his rhetoric after a flight to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah when he told reporters that Iran had committed an "act of war" as he again dismissed the claim by Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, that they were behind the airstrikes.

"Were it the case that the Houthis’ fraudulent claim was accurate, were that true —it’s not — but were that true, it doesn’t change the fingerprints of the Ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply.  ... This was an Iranian attack."

The big picture: World leaders will gather at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York next week, where it was speculated that talks could be held between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to de-escalate tensions. Iran has since ruled out that possibility, accusing the U.S. and Saudi Arabia of spreading misinformation.

  • It's also unclear if Iranian officials will be present at all. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is scheduled to leave this Friday, but he may not if U.S. visas aren't issued for the rest of his delegation, Zarif told Iran's Tasnim News Agency.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated to include Trump's comments in the Oval Office.

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Why it matters, per Axios' Joe Uchill: This is the second publicly revealed round of cyberattacks in response to real world attacks, after U.S. Cyber Command targeted Iran following the downing of a U.S. drone in July. The U.S. and many of its allies have blamed Iran for the Saudi oil attacks, but Iran has vigorously denied the allegations.

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