The United States announced a new raft of sanctions on Iran on Monday, but granted exemptions to eight countries, allowing them to temporarily continue buying Iranian oil, said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The move follows US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from a landmark 2015 international agreement on Iran's nuclear programme.
In a statement, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: "Treasury's imposition of unprecedented financial pressure on Iran should make clear to the Iranian regime that they will face mounting financial isolation and economic stagnation until they fundamentally change their destabilising behavior."
The sanctions cover 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 individuals and vessels in its shipping sector, and targets Tehran's national airline, Iran Air, and more than 65 of its aircraft, the statement said.
However, the US has granted exemptions to eight countries allowing them to temporarily continue buying Iranian oil.
The eight countries include China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea.
Pompeo said the waivers, which expire in six months, were necessary to avoid disruption of world oil markets and to give the eight countries more time to eliminate their imports. During those six months, the importing country can buy Iranian oil but must deposit Iran's revenue in an escrow account. Iran can spend the money but only on a narrow range of humanitarian items.
A notable omission was Iraq. Had Iraq been granted a waiver, Iran might have been able to skirt sanctions by mixing its crude with its neighbour's output, analysts say.
Seeking to deflect criticism from some Iran hawks concerned that the sanctions don't go far enough, Pompeo stressed that US pressure on countries to stop buying Iranian oil had already reduced its exports by more than a million barrels of crude-per-day.
"Rest assured, Iran will never get close to obtaining a nuclear weapon under President Trump's watch," he said.
'Life is difficult in Iran, but sanctions are nothing new'
‘Largest ever single-day action’
In what the US said was the “largest ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime,” the US Treasury imposed penalties on more than 700 Iranian and Iranian-linked individuals, entities, aircraft and vessels.
The move brought to more than 900 the number of Iran-related targets sanctioned by the Trump administration in less than two years.
Among those are 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 people and ships, Iran's state-run airline Iran Air and more than 65 of its planes.
Analysis: EU policy on Iran paralysed
Iran denounces 'bullying'
Hours earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the "bullying" reinstatement of oil and banking curbs was backfiring by making Washington more isolated, a reference to the other world powers opposed to the US initiative.
European powers which continue to back the nuclear deal said they opposed the reestablishment of sanctions, and major oil buyer China said it regretted the move.
FRANCE 24's Rob Parsons discusses the sanctions
The move is part of a wider effort by Trump to force Iran to further limit its nuclear work and halt a missile programme, as well as end its support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
Switzerland said it was holding talks with the United States and Iran about launching a humanitarian payment channel to keep food and drugs flowing into Tehran.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2018-11-05