On the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions Monday on the core inner circle of advisers to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and added $20 million to a reward for information about a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran 12 years ago.
The sanctions target some of Khamenei's closest advisers, including his second son, Mojtaba Khamenei, who often represents his father at official functions even though he has never been appointed to a government position, U.S. officials said.
Others sanctioned include Ebrahim Raisi, the newly appointed head of Iran's judiciary, and Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, the supreme leader's chief of staff. The list also includes an adviser who arranged credit lines for oil shipments to the Syrian government, and the head of Iran's Armed Forces General Staff, the top military body in Iran.
As if to underscore the long history of conflict between the United States and Iran, the Treasury Department also sanctioned Hossein Dehghan, one of Khamenei's military aides, who was a commander in Lebanon during the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 service members.
"Today's anniversary is a stark reminder that we are dealing with, today, the same regime that sprung up 40 years ago; the same regime that remains committed to violence and hostage taking that our diplomats encountered so long ago," said a senior administration official, referring to the 1979 student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in which more than 50 diplomats and military guards were held captive for 444 days.
This official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity under the Trump administration's media guidelines.
"Forty years later, the revolutionary regime in Tehran has proven, time and again, that its first acts after gaining power were a clear indication of its evil character," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. "The regime continues to unjustly detain Americans and to support terrorist proxy groups like Hizballah that engage in hostage taking."
Pompeo expanded on his characterization of Iran in a ceremony at the State Department to commemorate the anniversary, an event attended by many of the surviving hostages, their relatives and the families some of the five Americans known to be missing or imprisoned in Iran. Pompeo demanded Iran release them.
"Everyone involved in the Iran hostage crisis showed the world what they were made of," he said, extolling the courage of those who held up under captivity for 15 months. "The revolutionary regime showed their true malice and evil."
The State Department announced a $20 million addition to a $5 million FBI reward for information on the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who vanished during a 2007 visit to Kish Island in Iran.
Levinson's family issued a statement pleading with the government in Tehran to end hostage-taking.
"This sends a clear message from our government of how important it is that Bob Levinson be returned to his family and friends who love him," the statement said. "All the Iranian authorities need to do is send him home."
Another Trump administration official called on the Iranian government to renounce hostage-taking and release all foreigners unjustly imprisoned in Iran. The Americans missing or imprisoned there are believed to have been accused of espionage, claims their families and colleagues consider baseless.
In a background call with reporters, U.S. officials spoke with contempt of the Iranian regime.
"Iran's so-called democracy is a sham," one official said. "The power lies in the hands of the supreme leader, Khamenei, and his shadow network of corrupt appointees, who are forcibly suppressing all opposition inside the country and maintaining a grip on power."
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been escalating rapidly since President Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. They have spiraled upward particularly in recent months, as sanctions have been reimposed and Iran has reacted by appearing to test Washington's resolve. Iran has downed a U.S. drone in the Persian Gulf, and the administration has blamed it for attacks on Saudi oil facilities.
In Tehran, new anti-American graffiti has appeared on the wall around the former U.S. Embassy, now turned into a museum for a paramilitary militia.
Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the sanctions make the administration's maximum pressure campaign against Iran about something more than economics."These designations reveal that Iran's oppressive apparatus is much more than just one man," he said. "It's a constellation of military and political officials who faithfully carry out Khamenei's orders."
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