USA allows eight importers to keep buying Iran oil for now

Donald Trump and Iran President Hassan Rouhani. —AFP

Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran.

The United States said on Friday that it will temporarily allow eight importers to keep buying Iranian oil when it re-imposes sanctions on Monday to try to force Iran to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, along with German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström and Danish Foreign Affairs Ministe Anders Samuelsen held a conference call with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Saturday, to discuss the blowback to the European Union as a result of the reimposition of USA sanctions. "It can't handle oil in any serious volume", said Henry Rome, a specialist on Iran sanctions for the Washington-based Eurasia Group consultancy.

"In order to maximise the effect of the president's pressure campaign, we have worked closely with other countries to cut off Iranian oil exports as much as possible", Pompeo said.

The resumed sanctions targeting Iran's energy, banking, shipping and ship-building sectors had been lifted because of Iran's compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in May.

Speaking with the reporters at the White House on Friday before leaving on a campaign trail, Trump said Iran was not the same country which it was when he started nearly two years ago. The move, which is conveniently set to take place one day before midterm elections, is the Trump administration's latest affront to Tehran after leaving the Iran nuclear deal in May.

A defiant Khamenei dismissed the renewed United States sanctions - including an oil embargo - that take effect on Monday.

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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said Iran's arch-adversary the United States had failed to reassert its domination over Iran since the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the US -backed Shah.

But proponents as well as the other parties to the deal - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union - have vehemently defended it.

"We have advised SWIFT that Treasury will aggressively use its authorities as necessary to continue intense economic pressure on the Iranian regime and that SWIFT would be subject to USA sanctions if it provides financial messaging services to certain designated Iranian financial institutions", Mnuchin said.

The UK, France, Germany, Russia and China were also parties to the 2015 accord and have stuck to it, saying they will set up a new payment system to maintain business with Iran and bypass USA sanctions.

At a gathering on Saturday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, portrayed the sanctions as part of a long tradition of American hostility towards the Islamic Republic, which he said had nevertheless prevailed.

General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force that oversees its operations overseas, responded to Trump's Game of Thrones-inspired tweet on Friday that warned, "Sanctions are Coming". "It is obviously impossible to exclude Iranian oil from the market", Kardor told ISNA. "We have advised SWIFT that it must disconnect any Iranian financial institutions that we designate as soon as technologically feasible to avoid sanctions exposure".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the decision on Friday, did not identify the eight, which he referred to as "jurisdictions", a term that may include importers such as Taiwan which the US does not regard as a country.

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