The US government of President Donald Trump has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran in response to the Islamic Republic’s testing of a medium-range ballistic missile and backing of Houthi rebels in Yemen, whose use of Iranian Zelzal-3 rockets indicates weapons support.

The sanctions, which target 13 individuals and 12 companies, circumvent the Iran nuclear deal signed by the US and five other world powers in 2015. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) lifted multilateral nuclear sanctions on the country, allowing it to pursue international trade and investment.


The sanctions from the US Treasury’s Office were not targeted specifically at Iran’s government but at individuals and companies “procuring technology and/or materials to support Iran’s ballistic missile program”. This includes two companies and three individuals in China, who are now barred from the US financial system and from doing business with the US and others. While former State Department officials explain that the sanctions were prepared under the Obama administration to counter Chinese proliferation, China has responded with staunch criticism.  

“We have consistently opposed any unilateral sanctions,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a news conference. “The sanctions will not help in enhancing trust among the different parties involved and will not help in resolving international problems.”

The move by the Trump administration comes at a time of renewed tension between the US, Iran and China, as the new government has repeatedly expressed a hardline stance on both countries and opposition to the JCPOA.  

Since the signing of the nuclear deal, Iran has increased its oil exports to pre-sanctions levels and signed major contracts with multinationals including Airbus and Boeing. According to greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets, 2016 has been by far the best year on record for FDI into Iran, with a total of 59 projects announced worth more than $12.18bn.

Companies from Europe are leading the charge, making up 31 of the 59 projects, followed by their peers in the Asia-Pacific region with 21 projects. Policy experts warn that if Mr Trump pursues changes to the nuclear deal while Iran is not in violation of it, the other signatories – Germany, France, the UK, China and Russia – may not follow suit. Whether the Trump administration will take this course is yet unclear. US Secretary of Defence General James Mattis, among others, has expressed the importance of honouring the country’s international agreements.  

US media has reported that the Trump administration is planning at least another round of Iran sanctions, which could hit Chinese banks. On the nuclear deal, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said this month: “Renegotiation is out of the question.”