US intensifies pressure on Iran with yet more sanctions

Senior official in Washington signals likely rejection of economic plan by Paris to restart Tehran’s oil sales.

Iran Oil
Wednesday's round of sanctions intensifies a 'maximum pressure' campaign aimed at driving to zero Iran’s oil exports, the country's main source of income [File: Raheb Homavandi/Reuters]

The United States has turned up the economic pressure on Iran, blacklisting an oil shipping network that Washington alleges is directed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a senior US official indicated on Wednesday that the administration of President Donald Trump will not accommodate a proposal by France to throw a financial lifeline to Tehran.

The blacklisted group of firms, ships and individuals stands accused by the US Treasury of breaching US sanctions by supplying Syria with oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wednesday’s round of sanctions intensifies the “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at crippling Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income.

The move will almost certainly increase tensions that erupted when Trump withdrew last year from the international accord designed to stop Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.

Iran has been gradually reducing its compliance with the 2015 agreement in a bid to pressure European countries to compensate it for the severe damage done to its economy by multiple rounds of US sanctions. Tehran is expected to announce further breaches sometime this month.

‘More sanctions coming’

France has proposed extending Iran $15bn in credit lines – guaranteed by Iranian oil revenues – until the end of this year, if Tehran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal.

But the French plan hinges on the US being willing to reissue sanctions waivers.

And on Wednesday, Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran, said that there is no “concrete proposal” for extending lines of credit to Tehran and that the US would not grant sanctions waivers.

“We did sanctions today. There will be more sanctions coming,” Hook told reporters.

“We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers,” he added.

The ten individuals blacklisted on Wednesday included Rostam Qasemi, a former Iranian oil minister, and his son, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.

Also hit were subsidiaries of an Indian company with an interest in the Adrian Darya, the Iranian tanker that is suspected of carrying oil for Syria and that has been cruising the Mediterranean since its release from detention by British authorities off Gibraltar in July, it said.

‘Economically reliant’

The actions by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control froze any assets in the US belonging to the designated entities and generally prohibit US citizens or companies from doing business with them.

US officials said that the Quds Force, the IRGC’s elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm, and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia movement, profited financially from the sales of Iranian oil and petroleum products – mostly to Syria – that this spring alone were worth more than $750m.

“[The] treasury’s action against this sprawling petroleum network makes it explicitly clear that those purchasing Iranian oil are directly supporting Iran’s militants and terrorist arm, the IRGC-Qods Force [sic],” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.

US officials said that the Quds Force used the network to hide its involvement in the oil sales to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s government and other unidentified “illicit actors”, relying heavily on Hezbollah officials and front companies to broker the contracts.

The Quds Force and Hezbollah have been major backers of Damascus in the civil war that erupted in 2011 against decades of Assad family rule. The Quds Force and Hezbollah are on the US list of “foreign terrorist” organisations.

“This vast oil-for-terror shipping network demonstrates how economically reliant Tehran is on the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah as financial lifelines,” said Sigal Mandaker, the Treasury official overseeing sanctions.

Source: Reuters