WASHINGTON: The United States imposed strict sanctions targeting Iran’s oil, banking and industrial sectors on Monday and threatened more action to stop Tehran from pursuing “outlaw” policies, steps the Islamic Republic condemned as economic warfare and vowed to defy.
The measures are part of a wider effort by US President Donald Trump to curb Tehran’s missile and nuclear programmes and diminish the Islamic Republic’s influence in the Middle East, notably its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
“The Iranian regime has a choice: it can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters.
“We hope a new agreement with Iran is possible,” he added. “Rest assured, Iran will never come close to getting a nuclear weapon on President Trump’s watch.” Pompeo said.
The move restores, and strengthens, sanctions lifted under a 2015 international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme from which Washington withdrew in May at Trump’s behest.
In a statement, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the move “should make clear to the Iranian regime that they will face mounting financial isolation and economic stagnation until they fundamentally change their destabilizing behaviour.”
Hours earlier, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would to continue to sell its oil despite Washington’s “economic war.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said US “bullying” was backfiring by making Washington more isolated, a reference to other world powers opposed to the initiative.US sanctions permit trade in humanitarian goods such as food and pharmaceuticals, but measures imposed on banks and trade restrictions could make such items more expensive.
“America wanted to cut to zero Iran’s oil sales ... but we will continue to sell our oil ... to break sanctions,” Rouhani told economists, adding the sanctions were illegal and unfair.Oil prices rose as the sanctions went into effect, with international benchmark Brent crude up by more than $1 to a session high of $73.92 a barrel. US crude futures were up about one per cent at $63.85 a barrel.
The sanctions target Iran’s vital oil industry, although major customers such as China and India were given temporary exemptions. They also cover 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 persons and vessels in its shipping sector, Tehran’s national airline, Iran Air, and more than 65 of its aircraft, the Treasury statement said.
In reaction, a senior Iranian official who declined to be identified said Tehran was not concerned about the sanctions and will not yield to pressure to change its policies.
European powers that continue to back the nuclear deal said they opposed the reapplication of sanctions and major oil buyer China said it regretted the move.
Pompeo said Washington granted exceptions to eight importers allowing them to temporarily keep buying Iranian oil. More than 20 nations had already cut their oil imports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day, he said.
Iran’s clerical rulers dismissed the curbs. “Today the enemy (the United States) is targeting our economy ... the main target of sanctions is our people,” Rouhani said.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2018