The announcement effectively continues US participation in the Iran nuclear deal -- officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA -- for the time being, even as the Trump administration is conducting a broad review of US Iran policy.
Under the deal, the US and five other world powers agreed to lift sanctions in exchange for Iran rolling back its nuclear program.
Rather than permanently repealing US sanctions, which would have required congressional action, the Obama administration put a temporary hold on them, which must be periodically extended as long as Iran remains in compliance with the deal.
In a statement to reporters last month
, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged Iran's compliance, but chastised the Iranian government over its human rights record, its missile program, and support for the Assad regime in Syria.
"As we continue to closely scrutinize Iran's commitment to the JCPOA and develop a comprehensive Iran policy, we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses with new actions," acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones said in Wednesday's statement. "We urge our partners around the world to join us in calling out individuals and entities who violate international sanctions targeting Iran's human rights abuses."
As a candidate, President Donald Trump was critical of the JCPOA, which he called "one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history" and threatened to "dismantle" it. But so far, the administration has not taken steps to exit the agreement -- a move which would upset key European allies with whom the deal was negotiated.
However, Wednesday's decision to implement new sanctions related to Iran's ballistic missile program suggest the administration is eager to take a tougher stance toward the longtime US adversary.
"The Treasury Department is imposing new sanctions on Iranian defense officials, an Iranian entity, and a China-based network that supplied missile-applicable items to a key Iranian defense entity," Jones said in his statement.
Wednesday's actions come just two days before the Iranian presidential election, which pits incumbent Hassan Rouhani, whose administration negotiated the JCPOA, against hardliners who oppose opening relations with the west.