New US sanctions against Iran's supreme leader may be viewed as 'highly provocative' in Middle East

President Donald Trump has signed off new sanctions against Iran, targeting its supreme leader and his associates following the downing of a US surveillance drone.

It comes as US secretary of state Mike Pompeo visits Saudi Arabia in a bid to ease mounting tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Despite attempts to deescalate the situation, new sanctions targeting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be viewed as highly provocative by his millions of followers in this region.

He is a religious figure and his Shia faithful could see this as an insult that demands a response.

Donald Trump signed new sanctions against Iran following the downing of a US drone. Credit: AP

Following on from its abandonment of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Washington’s latest move puts relations further back than square one.

Now the Americans and Iranians appear even more entrenched – the hardest hitting sanctions ever will surely see the Iranians re-start their nuclear programme in earnest.

At a news conference following President Trump’s announcement, his Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin appeared to suggest that the sanctions would extend to the Iranian Foreign Minister later this week.

Javad Zarif is Iran’s top diplomat, and his designation would surely make even more remote any possibility of the two sides negotiating their way out of this crisis.