US Forces Are Ready for Iran's Response to New Sanctions, Esper Says

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In this July 21, 2019 file photo, a speedboat of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard moves around a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, which was seized by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP)
In this July 21, 2019 file photo, a speedboat of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard moves around a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, which was seized by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP)

While U.S. forces in the Middle East have not raised their alert status, they are prepared for any aggressive response from Iran to new sanctions ordered by President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday.

In remarks at the State Department with other Cabinet members, Esper said U.S. regional forces already "maintain a high state of alert."

"We continue to maintain all [the] operational readiness we need," he added.

In carrying out an executive order issued earlier Monday by Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the main purpose of the new sanctions is to prevent Iran's access to conventional weapons and thwart its nuclear ambitions.

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The sanctions will also serve as a warning to other nations against engaging in weapons deals with Iran, he added.

Trump issued his own statement on the sanctions.

"My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran," he said. "The United States will not allow the Iranian regime to further advance capabilities to directly threaten and terrorize the rest of the world."

The sanctions target dozens of entities and individuals involved in Iran's conventional and nuclear weapons programs, including the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, the Defense Industries Organization and its director, Mehrdad Akhlaghi-Ketabchi, Pompeo said.

They are also aimed at Venezuela and its disputed president, Nicolas Maduro. Pompeo charged that Venezuela has engaged in arms deals with Iran in violation of the United Nations arms embargo.

"Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide. No matter who you are, if you violate the U.N. arms embargo on Iran, you risk sanctions," Pompeo said.

Iran has accused the U.S. of hypocrisy for invoking sanctions under agreements in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, enacted by the Obama administration with international partners in 2015 with the aim of limiting Iran's nuclear programs. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA in May 2018.

In virtual remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Iran's main negotiator on the JCPOA, said the new sanctions amount to "nothing new."

"The United States has exerted all the pressure it could on Iran," he said. "It had hoped that these sanctions [would] bring our population to their knees. It didn't."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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