WASHINGTON (CN) – The No. 1 provider of petrochemicals to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was hit with sanctions Friday, marking the latest effort by the Trump administration to amp up pressure on Iran.
Tensions have escalated since last year when President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Since then, the president has issued an executive order sanctioning Iran’s copper, aluminum and steel industries, and the administration has officially designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization.
Now, by targeting the Persian Gulf Chemical Industry Company with sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said key elements of Iran’s petrochemical sector will be impaired.
Mnuchin said the latest sanctions should also serve as a warning to any other groups or companies in the petrochemical industry that might consider doing business with the corps.
At present, the Persian Gulf Chemical Industry Co. is tied to 39 subsidiaries and reportedly produces half of all of Iran’s petrochemical exports. The company also holds roughly 40 percent of the nation’s entire production capacity for petrochemicals.
“Maximum pressure on Iran’s regime continues today,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday, going on to note that the U.S. would continue to squeeze Iran so that Tehran would stop engaging in activities that might destabilize the Middle East.
For its part, Iran has rebuffed claims of aggression. In a May letter to the United Nations, Iran said that the unprecedented U.S. nuclear and economic sanctions were in direct conflict with U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been increasingly unpredictable in recent weeks.
Last month, the U.S. yanked American officials from Iraq and Iran following a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, but not before placing blame squarely on Iran for the damage.
CBS News reported Friday, however, that the U.N. Security Council received a report by investigators from Norway, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which said the attack was likely caused by a state actor. Investigators did not name Tehran as a possible suspect in the attack.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
U.S.-Iran relations also suffered last month when an unidentified rocket landed near the U.S Embassy in Baghdad prompting the president to lash out aggressively on Twitter.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Trump tweeted on May 19.
Mere weeks later, however, during an official visit to Japan, Trump expressed an apparent interest in meeting with Iranian leaders, publicly stating that unlike his national security adviser John Bolton, he did not wish to see regime change in the region.
And from Switzerland this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration was willing to negotiate “with no preconditions,” but added the U.S. effort to “reverse the malign activity of the Islamic Republic” would continue.