Iran’s refusal to negotiate under new sanctions could push Trump closer to his hawkish advisors, and nudge the US towards full-on war

A composite image of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump.

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A composite image of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump.
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Michael Gruber/Getty Images; Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images; Samantha Lee/Business Insider

  • President Donald Trump imposed fresh sanctions on Iran on Monday, specifically targeting its supreme leader Ali Khamenei and other key officials.
  • Top Iranian officials responded by saying that the sanctions equated to the “permanent closure” of US-Iran diplomatic relations, and that Tehran would not negotiate with Washington under those sanctions.
  • The lack of dialogue between the US and Iran could nudge Trump closer to an all-out war with Iran.
  • Trump has so far resisted his hawkish advisers who are advocating war, and has offered to negotiate with Iran instead.
  • Iran’s refusal to cooperate under the new sanctions could now tip Trump toward the hawks.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Iran on Tuesday said that new US sanctions imposed on the regime signaled a “permanent closure” of their diplomatic relations, and that Tehran would not negotiate with Washington as long as the sanctions remain intact.

Such a move could nudge the US closer to a full-on war with Iran.

President Donald Trump on Monday imposed fresh new sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and eight Iranian commanders.

The new measures, which the US said are “a clear message to the Iranian regime that it must end its malign behavior,” came after Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard shot down a US drone last week.

Read more: Iran downed a $130 million US drone. Trump’s sanctions are probably costing Iran $120 million a day.

Trump displays an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran's supreme leader in the Oval Office on Monday.

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Trump displays an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader in the Oval Office on Monday.
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Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump’s hawkish national security advisor, John Bolton, said shortly after the sanctions were announced that “the president has held the door open to real negotiations” on Iran’s nuclear program, adding that “all that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door,” according to Reuters.

This now seems unlikely to happen.

Hours after the new sanctions were announced, Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, told reporters: “You cannot start a dialogue with somebody who is threatening you, who is intimidating you,” according to Agence France-Presse.

“The atmosphere of such a dialogue is not ready yet,” he said, adding that the US must end “its economic war against the Iranian people.”

National Security Advisor John Bolton at a meeting between Trump and reporters in the White House Cabinet Room in February 2019.

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National Security Advisor John Bolton at a meeting between Trump and reporters in the White House Cabinet Room in February 2019.
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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, Abbas Mousavi, also tweeted that the US’s imposition of new sanctions “is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” according to Reuters.

“Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security,” Mousavi added.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani also insulted Trump personally on Tuesday, telling a live TV address that the White House was “afflicted with mental retardation.”

Read more: Iran’s president said the Trump administration is ‘afflicted with mental retardation,’ turning their conflict increasingly personal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Tuesday. He said Trump's White House was

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Tuesday. He said Trump’s White House was “afflicted with mental retardation.”
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Reuters

The struggle between Trump’s hawks and doves

Trump has so far shied away from direct military action against Iran amid a struggle between his closest advisers, who are split between those who advocate military action against Iran, and those who want Trump to take caution and allow US sanctions to take effect.

A prominent hawk is Bolton, who has since joining the Trump administration last April called for US military action against North Korea and Venezuela, and now Iran.

Trump appears to be listening to the doves so far. Last Thursday he approved, then abruptly canceled, a military strike on Iranian targets. He chose to launch a cyberattack on the regime instead.

Although the president said his about-face came because a general had told him that 150 people would die in the attack, The New York Times reported that it was also the result of his listening the advisers who were trying to steer him away from war.

One of those advisers was the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who told Trump that if he got into a war with Iran, he’d squander his chances of reelection, the Times reported.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson in Los Angeles in October 2018. He has reportedly been advising Trump not to go to war with Iran.

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Fox News host Tucker Carlson in Los Angeles in October 2018. He has reportedly been advising Trump not to go to war with Iran.
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Rich Polk/Getty Images for Politicon

On Sunday Trump also offered to take part in nuclear negotiations with Iran’s supreme leader, with no preconditions. But he also added: “I’m not looking for war and if there is, it’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”

Read more: Trump’s most dovish advisers win out on Iran as the president replays the ‘maximum pressure strategy’ he used against North Korea

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted hours after the sanctions were announced that Trump’s hawkish advisors, which he nicknamed the “B Team,” are “not concerned with US interests – they despise diplomacy, and thirst for war.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad, Iraq, in May 2019. He tweeted on Monday that Trump's hawkish advisers

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad, Iraq, in May 2019. He tweeted on Monday that Trump’s hawkish advisers “despise diplomacy.”
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Reuters

The Iranian economy has already struggled under the pressure of existing US sanctions imposed after Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – last year.

Tehran remained in compliance with the JCPOA in the year after the US withdrawal, but said last week that it would break from a key component in the deal by ramping up its enrichment of low-grade uranium and increasing its stockpile beyond the limitations outlined in the deal.

Read more: Iranian lawmakers chanted ‘Death to America’ Sunday amid increased tensions between the countries