WASHINGTON — President Reagan, citing Iran's "continued and increasingly bellicose behavior," Monday banned all imports from that nation, including oil, and cut off virtually all U.S. exports that it receives.
The action was intended primarily as a symbolic gesture, since U.S. and Iranian trade already is minimal. In August, Iranian oil accounted for only 1% of U.S. crude oil imports.
But the White House said it wants to ensure that profits from U.S. trade cannot help Iran subsidize its war against Iraq or its attacks on Persian Gulf shipping.
"Let me emphasize that we are taking these economic measures only after repeated but unsuccessful attempts to reduce tensions with Iran and in response to the continued and increasingly bellicose behavior of the Iranian government," Reagan said in a statement.
From January through July, Iran's oil earnings from sales to the United States were estimated to be $900 million, up from $500 million in all of 1986.
Reagan's announcement came after recent Silkworm missile attacks by Iran that have damaged a U.S.-registered oil tanker, other ships and Kuwaiti oil-shipping facilities at the northern end of the gulf. The sanctions were imposed under pressure from the House and Senate, which recently passed legislation with a similar thrust.
Reagan said the restrictions will remain in effect until Iran retreats from what he called "its aggressive disregard for the most fundamental norms of international conduct."
Some in the Administration have expressed reservations about taking such action, warning that it might compromise the United States' declared neutrality in the gulf war.
Paul Freedenberg, acting Commerce Department undersecretary for export administration, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently that a similar ban imposed against Libya has had little economic impact on that nation.
However, a U.S. official said the White House decided the sanctions were justified and that the President, rather than Congress, should impose them because they represent a foreign policy action.
In addition to oil, the United States imports rugs, pistachio nuts and a few other goods from Iran. Sales to the United States represent a very small fraction of Iran's exports.
U.S. sales to Iran are made up primarily of low-technology manufactured goods and totaled about $32 million in 1986. The new ban cites 14 categories of U.S. products "with potential military application." Among the few exports exempted from Monday's ban were food and medical supplies.
In broadening the restrictions, Reagan acted under the International Security and Cooperation Development Act. The import restrictions are to take effect as soon as possible, officials said, with the export controls going into effect within 10 days.
Cites 'Continued Aggression'
In his statement, Reagan cited Iran's refusal to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq War and Iran's "continued aggression against non-belligerent nations of the Persian Gulf and its sponsorship of terrorism there and elsewhere in the world."
The congressional pressure to cut off trade with Iran grew after the increase of U.S. purchases of Iranian oil was recently disclosed. In addition, Iran was also reported to be seeking $40-million worth of oil field machinery from U.S. companies to replace facilities lost in Iraqi air attacks.
Among the U.S. products put on the list of banned export items were mobile communications equipment; boats, including inflatable rafts; off-highway tractors; large diesel engines; non-strategic aircraft parts and components and portable electric generators.
Also, all marine engines, other naval equipment such as acoustic underwater detection gear, underwater photographic systems, pressured aircraft breathing equipment, sonar navigation equipment, electronic test equipment and cryptographic equipment.