US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has targeted Iran’s defense ministry and others said to be involved in its alleged nuclear weapons program, piling on threats after the US restoration of “snapback” sanctions at the weekend.

The top US diplomat also leveled sanctions at Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during a press conference on Monday, declaring the proliferation of economic punishments a “warning that should be heard worldwide.” Countries that declined to obey the US prohibition on arms trading were also threatened with sanctions.

Pompeo’s announcement of sanctions targeting 25 individuals came just days after the US declared “snapback” UN sanctions on Iran to be reimposed under the JCPOA nuclear deal, which Washington actually pulled out of in 2018 and whose other signatories have argued it has no say in enforcing anymore.

The state secretary defended the US’ “maximum pressure” policy against Iran, insisting it had saved “countless” lives while “keeping a channel open for humanitarian assistance” – a claim Tehran has repeatedly denounced as unfounded, as vital medical supplies were blocked from reaching Iranian hospitals during the height of the country’s coronavirus pandemic.

Pompeo has maintained that it was the UN’s own sanctions against Iran – including the arms embargo set to expire next month – that “snapped back” over the weekend, though the international alliance declared it has no intention of enforcing sanctions it has not agreed to reimpose. The restrictions were lifted in 2015 with the JCPOA agreement, to which the US is no longer a signatory. 

The snapback sanctions would impose a total ban on uranium enrichment and a total moratorium on missile development. Iran began exceeding the JCPOA’s limits on uranium enrichment last year after other signatory countries refused to uphold their investment commitments, presumably out of fear of US sanctions.

While Pompeo has heralded the State Department’s actions as “a step toward international peace and security,” others have warned the unilateral move is setting the US up for confrontation with Iran.

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