In a tough move on Iran over the downing of a US drone, President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order imposing financial sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The sanctions will "will deny the supreme leader and the supreme leader's office and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office before putting his signature to the document.
"Today's actions follow a series of aggressive behaviours by the Iranian regime in recent weeks, including shooting down of US drones," Trump said, flanked by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Vice President Mike Pence.
"The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime. He's respected within his country. His office oversees the regime's most brutal instruments, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," the President said of Khamanei.
Until now, the US in its sanctions had targeted broad economic sectors and government entities, such as the Revolutionary Guard, as opposed to specific individuals.
At the same time, Trump reiterated his desire for negotiations with Iran to reduce tensions, a proposal that Khamanei has rebuffed.
"I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us and that doesn't mean we're going to show it in the future," the President said. "But I felt I wanted to give this a chance, give it a good chance. Because I think Iran has potentially a phenomenal future," he added.
Days after vetoing a military response to the downing of the drone, Trump said, "These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran's increasingly provocative actions."
The statement by the US president was made on the grounds that the likely casualties from strikes on Iran would be "disproportionate" relative to the Iranian attack on an unmanned aircraft.
Among the "provocative actions" by Iran, he pointed to the downing of the drone and attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, though he denied a direct link between the drone incident and the new sanctions.
"This was something that was going to happen anyway," Trump said.
Mnuchin, meanwhile, said that "some of these were in the works, some of these were results of recent activities. I'm not going to identify which is which."
Iran denies having anything to do with the attacks on tankers and says that the US drone violated Iranian airspace. The Pentagon insists the unmanned aircraft was flying over international waters.
Mnuchin also signalled his intention to impose individual sanctions on Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who represented Tehran in the negotiations that led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limited Iranian nuclear activity in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2018 and Khamenei says he is not interested in negotiations until and unless Washington returns to the 2015 pact and ends sanctions that are harming the Iranian economy.
Iran and the rest of the signatories - Russia, China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union - officially remain committed to the JCPOA.
Video: US President Donald Trump approved strikes on Iran but pulled back