IRAN's leaders lashed out at Washington on Monday as the Trump administration raised economic sanctions to their maximum level, saying the latest punitive actions called for countermeasures to pressure the U.S. in return.
The acrimony pointed to a sharp elevation of tensions between Washington and Tehran as the Trump administration put into effect a ban on oil imported from Iran and listed more than 700 Iranian banks, companies and individuals under sanctions in the latest phase of a pressure campaign.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran went on national television to denounce the action and call for unspecified countermeasures.
“Unfair sanctions are against the law, U.N. resolutions and international accords. Therefore, we will proudly break the sanctions,” Mr. Rouhani said.
“It’s not going to work out only through words,” he added. “Action means putting pressure on the U.S. so it doesn’t dare to continue with its plots.”
As it escalated its sanctions, the U.S. also took a series of steps to ease their impact on countries around the world that have reopened their doors to trade with Iran since the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement took effect. President Trump withdrew from that agreement in May, saying it was inadequate and instituted new sanctions to force Iran into a new and more far-reaching deal, which Iran has spurned.
The administration temporarily exempted eight governments from U.S. sanctions against purchases of Iranian oil.
China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey received waivers that would allow them to continue temporary imports of Iranian crude without facing penalties, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
The waivers allow those governments to continue the purchase of Iranian oil for 180 days, with the option for an extension if the governments demonstrate steps to eventually halt such purchases.
The Trump administration also issued a shorter waiver to Iraq to allow it to continue to buy electricity from Iran. The administration also will allow Iraq to purchase Iranian natural gas, as long as the proceeds from the natural gas go for humanitarian purposes.
In addition, the U.S. decided to allow for the temporary continuation of international nonproliferation efforts at three Iranian nuclear sites—Arak, Bushehr and Fordow—on a temporary basis, to ensure oversight and safe operations.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the new sanctions show that the Iranian regime “will face mounting financial isolation until [it fundamentally changes its] destabilizing behavior.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif equated the renewed U.S. sanctions to bullying, but said the move is backfiring because five other parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement remained in the deal after Mr. Trump withdrew in May. “The US—& not Iran—is isolated,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Zarif also mocked the U.S. action, writing on Twitter that the sanctions’ targets included a bank that was closed six years ago and a ship that sank last year.
Iran’s international sales have fallen by a third in the approach to the second round of sanctions against its economy.
Nonetheless, administration officials want to cut Tehran’s exports to zero, threatening to punish anyone caught violating its embargo on crude.
Countries that import Iranian crude and don’t have a U.S. waiver risk U.S. sanctions that forbid Americans from doing business with their companies and cutting off access to the U.S. financial system.
Waiver recipients welcomed the U.S. decision to excuse them for now.
Ruhsar Pekcan, Turkey’s trade minister, said the U.S. waiver “is an important, positive step,” but noted that Iran is a primary supplier of oil and natural gas and suggested Washington needed to address other frictions between the two nations, including U.S. tariffs on steel imports.
Turkish authorities also said they hoped the administration would move to resolve a protracted U.S. case involving Turkish state-owned lender Halkbank , which U.S. authorities suspect helped Iran evade a previous round of sanctions. Halkbank officials have denied the allegations.
The extension granted to Greece would allow Greece’s largest refinery, Hellenic Petroleum , to repay debts to Iranian firms, Greek officials said.
Hellenic Petroleum agreed to buy oil from the National Iranian Oil Co. in 2016, marking the first sale of Iranian crude to a European country since sanctions were lifted.
The settlement was part a deal that allowed the company to repay at least €500 million ($569 million) of debt it owed Iranian firms before the imposition of European Union sanctions.
South Korea’s waiver will enable Seoul “to continue its imports of Iranian crude oil, and thus ensure a stable supply of condensate,” the government said, adding it would also continue exporting to Iran items not subject to sanctions.
The South Korean exemption was settled in an Oct. 29 telephone call between Mr. Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, the South Korean government said.
In Italy, a government official said that the government was granted a temporary waiver allowing Italian companies time to close the contracts they have with Iran.
Officials at the Chinese and Indian embassies didn’t respond to a request for comment. U.S. representatives for Taiwan declined to comment. Japan said it had no comment yet.
The Trump administration, through the threat of sanctions, also took action on Monday to force the global financial-messaging service Swift, which facilitates cross-border transactions for financial institutions, to sever some Iranian banks from its service.
Swift said it was suspending access to the Iranian banks. - WSJ
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