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Trump imposes sanctions on Iran's supreme leader

Sanctions will target Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but US president says Washington is not seeking conflict
Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, after signing new sanctions against Iran (Reuters)

Donald Trump has imposed sanctions on Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after Tehran's shooting down of an unmanned US drone last week.

"We will increase pressure on Iran. Never can Iran have a nuclear weapon," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday.

While announcing the new sanctions, Trump said the US is a "peace-loving nation" that does not "seek conflict with Iran".

The new measures come days after Trump authorised then called off military strikes against Iranian targets.

"I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us - a lot of restraint - and that doesn't mean we're going to show it in the future," Trump said.

Tehran has blamed Washington for the downing of the drone, saying that the unmanned plane had violated its airspace. But US officials have insisted that the drone was shot down over international waters.

Last year, Trump pulled Washington out of a multinational agreement that saw Tehran drastically scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for economic sanctions relief.

Ali Kahmenei (AFP)
New sanctions will target the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (AFP/File photo)

Asked on Monday whether he would like to work on a new agreement with Iran, Trump said: "We would love to negotiate a new deal if they want to; if they don't want to, that's fine, too… We'll see what happens, but the people of Iran are great people."

Tensions between Washington and Tehran rose sharply early in May after US officials warned that Iran is planning attacks against US troops and interests in the Middle East.

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Since then, Washington has blamed Tehran for a series of attacks in the region, including the sabotage of four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran has denied responsibility for the attacks.

Later on Monday, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said new sanctions will target "those responsible for recent activity", including Iranian naval commanders.

Washington is also preparing sanctions against Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Mnuchin told reporters.

The secretary added that the new measures are "highly effective" against Iran's economy. "We've literally locked up tens and tens of billions of dollars," he said.

Mnuchin explained that the new sanctions encompass not just Khamanei but his office as well, which will affect a wide range of people.