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US to end sanctions waivers for Iranian oil imports

April 22, 2019

The United States has said no governments will be exempted from US sanctions on Iranian oil imports. The White House said the decision was intended "to bring Iran's oil exports to zero."

A man walks past an oil refinery in the south of the Iranian capital Tehran
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

The United States on Monday announced it will not extend sanctions exemptions to countries importing oil from Iran when they expire in early May.

Eight governments — India, China, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan — had been given 6-month reprieves from the unilateral US sanctions on Iran.

"This decision is intended to bring Iran's oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue," the White House said in a statement.

"The Trump administration and our allies are determined to sustain and expand the maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran to end the regime's destabilizing activity threatening the United States, our partners and allies and security in the Middle East," it said.

Read more: Iran sanctions: 5 things to know

India has warm ties with Washington despite disagreeing with the US view that Iran is a threat, but the decision may exacerbate tensions with China and Turkey. Greece, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have already substantially reduced their purchases from Iran.

Trump last year withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, as well as the leaders of China, France, Germany and the UK, which saw Iran massively scale back its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Trump decided to reinstate sanctions on Tehran, which led Germany, France and the UK to set up a new transaction channel that would allow companies to continue trading with Iran.

Read more: What is the EU-Iran payment vehicle INSTEX?

Oil prices rise

Oil prices rose following the announcement. In morning trading, benchmark US crude surged by 2.4% to $65.57 (€58.23) per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, jumped by 2.6% to $73.80.

The White House said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both close US allies that back US President Donald Trump's stance against regional rival Iran, would make up the difference in oil to ensure that global markets were not unsettled.

"Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] will more than make up the oil flow difference in our now full sanctions on Iranian Oil," Trump wrote on Twitter.

Riyadh was committed to its mission to "stabilize" the oil market, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said Monday.

"The kingdom will coordinate with other oil producing countries to ensure adequate supplies to consumers," he said in a statement.

Read more: How the EU plans to get around US sanctions on Iran

Iran claims sanctions 'illegal'

Following the US announcement, Iran described the sanctions as "illegal."

"Since the sanctions in question are principally illegal, the Islamic Republic of Iran did not and does not attach any value or credibility to the waivers," the Foreign Ministry said on its official website.

Turkey also said it would not respect the sanctions on oil imports from Iran. "We do not accept unilateral sanctions and impositions on the issue of how we will establish relations with our neighbours," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the state news agency Anadolu.

Cavusoglu warned that the US move to end exemptions "will not serve regional peace and stability."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the decision. "The decision by President Trump and the US administration is of great importance to increase the pressure on the Iranian terrorist regime," Netanyahu said in a statement.

"We stand by the determination of the US against Iranian aggression and this is the right way to stop it," he said.

Iran is Israel's archenemy, and Netanyahu has fully supported the Trump administration's aggressive stance against Tehran.

Trump has continually expressed his support for Israel after making the controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017.

law/ng (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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