US reportedly to issue new Iran sanctions, opening shot in get-tough strategy

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump is poised to impose new sanctions on multiple Iranian entities, seeking to ratchet up pressure on Tehran while crafting a broader strategy to counter what he sees as its destabilizing behavior, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

In the first tangible action against Iran since Trump took office on Jan. 20, the administration, on the same day he insisted that "nothing is off the table," prepared to roll out new measures against more than two dozen Iranian targets, the sources said. The announcement is expected as early as Friday, they added.

Related: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

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Ballistic missile testing in Iran
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Ballistic missile testing in Iran

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

A ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, March 9, 2016.

(REUTERS/Mahmood Hosseini/TIMA)

An undated handout picture shows the Iranian supersonic ballistic missile, Persian Gulf, during a war-game in an unknown location in Iran. The Arabic script reads, "Ya Aliyebn-Abitaleb", a religious title for Imam Ali, the first Imam of Shi'ite Muslims.

(REUTERS/Fars News/Handout)

An undated handout picture shows the Iranian supersonic ballistic missile, Persian Gulf, launching during a war-game in an unknown location in Iran.

(REUTERS/Fars News/Handout)

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The new sanctions, which are being taken under existing executive orders covering terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, may mark the opening shot in a more aggressive policy against Iran that Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign, the sources, who had knowledge of the administration's plans, said.

But the package, targeting both entities and individuals, was formulated in a way that would not violate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and six world powers including Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, they added.

The sources said the new sanctions had been in the works for some time and that Iran's decision to test-fire a ballistic missile on Sunday helped trigger Trump's decision to impose them, although Washington has not accused Iran of violating the nuclear deal.

SEE ALSO: Iran brushes off Trump's 'empty threats' over missile tests

The White House declined comment.

A U.S. State Department official said: "As standard policy, we do not preview sanction decisions before they are announced."

The White House signaled a tougher stance toward Iran on Wednesday when Michael Flynn, Trump's national security adviser, said he was putting Iran "on notice" after the missile test and senior U.S. officials said the administration was reviewing how to respond.

A top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country would not yield to "useless" U.S. threats from "an inexperienced person" over its ballistic missile program. The adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, did not identify a specific U.S. official in his comments.

STILL-EVOLVING PLAN

The impact of the new sanctions will be more symbolic than practical, especially as the move does not affect the lifting of broader U.S. and international sanctions that took place under the nuclear deal. Also, few of the Iranian entities being targeted are likely to have U.S. assets that can be frozen, and U.S. companies, with few exceptions, are barred from doing business with Iran.

But the administration is working with congressional staffers and outside experts on a still-evolving broader plan aimed at hitting Iran's pressure points, including its already restricted nuclear program, missile development and support of militant groups in the region, several sources said.

Since taking office, Trump and his aides have not repeated campaign rhetoric about tearing up the deal. He may instead be trying to force Iran to either renegotiate the terms or pull out unilaterally, thereby shouldering the blame internationally.

Defenders of the deal said there was little chance Iran could be goaded back to the negotiating table and warned that too stringent an approach could escalate into a confrontation and embolden Iranian hardliners.

In the latest move, one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said about eight Iranian entities were to be sanctioned or designated, for terrorism-related activities and about 17 for ballistic missile-related activities under separate existing U.S. executive orders. The source declined to name the entities, which were targeted under executive orders signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2005.

Sanctions designations can lead to asset freezes, travel bans and other penalties.

Republican lawmakers said they were working with the Trump administration to push back on Iran without risking the collapse of the deal, widely supported internationally.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Reuters that his panel was "in the early stages" of working on legislation on Iran. (Additional reporting by Patrica Zengerle, Ayesha Rascoe, Roberta Rampton in Washington and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)

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