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Trump tightens Iran sanctions as France warns against 'escalation'

Iranian presidency, AFP | President Hassan Rouhani at the Bushehr nuclear centre in January 2015

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered new sanctions on Iran, this time targeting its industrial metals sector, hours after Tehran said it would no longer fully comply with a landmark nuclear deal already ditched by Washington.

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The announcement was made on the anniversary of the Trump administration's unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 agreement between Tehran and world powers, under which the Islamic Republic agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions.

It came just hours after Tehran said it would no longer fully comply with the accord if its remaining signatories - Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - did not make good on promises to shield its oil and banking sectors from US sanctions.

New Iran sanctions part of Trump administration's so-called 'maximum pressure campaign'

Responding to Iran’s announcement, France’s foreign ministry expressed its "concern" and urged Tehran to avoid any action that “that might fuel an escalation".

France "strongly calls on Iran to continue to respect all of its nuclear obligations", a spokesperson for the ministry added.

Tensions were already high between Washington and Tehran when the Trump administration said last weekend that it was deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East, in response to what it said were "troubling indications and warnings" from Iran.

Before Trump's executive order for the sanctions, a senior White House official said Washington would impose more economic curbs on Tehran "very soon" and had warned Europe to stop doing business with the Islamic Republic.

Iran's Rouhani issues 60-day ultimatum

"Today's action targets Iran's revenue from the export of industrial metals - 10 percent of its export economy - and puts other nations on notice that allowing Iranian steel and other metals into your ports will no longer be tolerated," Trump said in a statement.

"Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct," the US president added.

Russia slams Washington's 'irresponsible behaviour'

Under the landmark deal agreed by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, the six parties to the agreement were supposed to lift nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in return for it reining in its nuclear activities to ease fears it was seeking the capability to produce an atomic bomb.

UN inspectors say Iran has continued to comply with the deal after the US withdrawal.

But the promised sanctions relief has failed to materialise as European and Asian banks and oil companies have moved swiftly to abide by the renewed US sanctions for fear of financial or commercial repercussions.

Iranians feel bite of US sanctions

Spearheaded by national security adviser John Bolton, the Trump administration has taken several unprecedented steps to squeeze Iran such as demanding the world halt all Iranian oil imports and designating Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organisation, which Iran has cast as an American provocation.

"We have made our focus diplomatic isolation and economic pressure and that policy is working," Brian Hook, Special Envoy for Iran, said in a briefing. Hook said that more nations now, compared with a year ago, were in agreement with the United States on Iran.

However, world powers including Washington’s European allies have been critical of the US decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Washington’s “irresponsible behaviour” for the “fragile” state of the nuclear deal and called on European signatories to help resolve the situation.

"I believe the only practical steps that need to be taken in order to resolve the situation... is to convince all remaining participants to fulfil their obligations," Lavrov said.

China’s foreign ministry has warned that “maintaining and implementing the comprehensive agreement is the shared responsibility of all parties".

China "resolutely opposes" unilateral US sanctions against Iran, the ministry added.

There was further criticism at home, with leading Democratic lawmakers such as Chris Murphy, the top Democrat on the Senate's Middle East subcommittee, accusing Trump's administration of making America less safe through its policies

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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