Iran has imposed sanctions on 51 Americans for what Iran said is “their role in the terrorist crime by the United States against the martyred General Qassem Soleimani” – an action that U.S. officials consider a grave threat against its citizens.  

General Qassem Soleimani was the leader of the Quds force, a division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for foreign and clandestine operations. Soleimani was killed by an American drone strike on Jan. 3, 2020. 

Those sanctioned by Iran include General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. The sanctions are mainly symbolic, as those sanctioned do not hold assets in Iran. 

The Iranian sanctions, issued on Saturday, come just one week after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi threatened that Iran would “take revenge” unless former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo face trial for Soleimani’s death. 

“If Trump and Pompeo are not tried in a fair court for the criminal act of assassinating General Soleimani, Muslims will take our martyr’s revenge,” Raisi said. “The aggressor, murderer and main culprit – the then president of the United States – must be tried and judged under the (Islamic) law of retribution, and God’s ruling must be carried out against him.” 

The United States responded forcefully to the announcement of sanctions Sunday, making it clear that threats and provocations against American citizens will be met with severe consequences. 

“Yesterday, Iran purported to impose sanctions on 51 Americans. They do so as Iran’s proxy militias continue to attack American troops in the Middle East, and as Iranian officials threaten to carry out terror operations inside the United States and elsewhere around the world,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “Make no mistake: the United States of America will protect and defend its citizens. This includes those serving the United States now and those who formerly served…We will work with our allies and partners to deter and respond to any attacks carried out by Iran. Should Iran attack any of our nationals, including any of the 51 people named yesterday, it will face severe consequences.”

Meanwhile, the international talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the Iran nuclear deal – continue. Talks were revived in late November after being suspended in June. It was rumored, after a report in Rai al-Youm, that Iran had agreed to an interim deal for two years according to which, the U.S. would lift sanctions on Iran in return for the removal to Russia of Iran’s enriched uranium. 

“The report is totally wrong and fake,” a source close to the Iranian negotiating team reportedly said. 

Iran, in fact, has officially ruled out agreeing to any interim agreement. 

“Tehran is looking for a lasting and credible agreement, and no agreement without these two components is on our agenda,” a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said. “We all need to make sure that the return of the United States [to the deal is accompanied by verification and the receipt of guarantees, and that a lifting of sanctions must take place. These are not achieved by any temporary agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made it clear that Israel reserves the right to act against Iran, notwithstanding the reaching of an agreement between the parties to the JCPOA and the United States. 

“It is important for me to say here clearly and unequivocally: Israel is not a party to the agreements,” Bennett said. “Israel is not bound to what will be written in the agreements if they are signed. Israel will maintain unlimited and unrestricted freedom of action, everywhere and at all times.”

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