Trump threatened to force new sanctions on Iran in a speech last week. He accused Iran of breaking the terms of a deal signed in 2015 that limited its ability to develop nuclear weapons.
He also said Iran “remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al-Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks”.
It comes as forces backed by the US and Iran compete for territory held by Isis in Syria.
US-backed forces launched what they said was their final assault on the Isis-held city of Raqqa in Syria last Sunday.
More than 1,000 Syrians have been killed in Raqqa since the assault began in June this year, including by US airstrikes.
Meanwhile forces backed by Iran are taking control of areas in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor region, which borders Iraq. Iran hopes to grow its influence in the Middle East by taking control of land in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s speech warned of Iran’s “continued dangerous and destabilising behaviour” and its “sinister vision for the future”.
He said the US would enforce new sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—a branch of Iran’s armed forces currently supporting the Syrian regime.
Trump used the speech to “decertify” the 2015 Iran deal.
But this doesn’t mean the deal is cancelled, only that the US has signalled it’s not committed to it.
Under this agreement the US, Britain, France and Germany agreed to lift sanctions against Iran.
In return, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme and allow inspections. The deal was the US’s attempt, under previous president Barack Obama, to contain Iran and come to terms with its own weakening power in the Middle East.
But the deal faced opposition from hard right Republicans in the US—including Trump—as well as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Britain, France and Germany have warned Trump against scrapping it. And Trump’s own defence secretary James Mattis said it was in the US’s interest to stay in the deal.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson tempered Trump’s speech by saying the US should stay in the agreement to “address the flaws”.
But the US’s attempts to cling on to power in the Middle East will lead it closer to confrontation in Iran—and yet more chaotic bloodshed.