US slaps sanctions on UAE-based firms over Iran oil purchases

Latest sanctions signal Washington is still squeezing Iran’s economy even as the country battles coronavirus outbreak.

US sanctions Iran coronavirus
People attend a protest in Washington, DC against United States sanctions on Iran, where the death toll from COVID-19 is approaching 1,300 [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]

The United States on Thursday slapped sanctions on five United Arab Emirates-based companies, accusing them of having collectively purchased hundreds of thousands of metric tons of petroleum products from Iran last year. 

The move was the latest sign that Washington is showing no signs of backing away from squeezing Iran’s economy, even as the Islamic Republic struggles to battle the coronavirus outbreak. 

The US Department of the Treasury alleged in a statement that money from the oil purchases has been used by Iran to support “malign activities throughout the Middle East, including the support for terrorist groups,” and that at least three of the blacklisted UAE companies “falsified documents to conceal the Iranian origin” of the petroleum products they purchased. 

The announcement, which followed the blacklisting of Chinese and South African companies earlier this week over Iran oil trade, is the latest indication that Washington is not easing its campaign of choking off Iran’s ability to export its oil – a major source of revenue for the Islamic Republic – despite appeals from China and others to do so on humanitarian grounds as Iran battles the coronavirus outbreak.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has surpassed 18,400 in Iran, where the death toll from the disease is fast approaching 1,300, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Last week, Tehran asked the International Monetary Fund for $5bn in emergency funding to fight the outbreak.

“The Trump Administration will continue to target and isolate those who support the Iranian regime and remains committed to facilitating humanitarian trade and assistance in support of the Iranian people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The US “maximum pressure” campaign of successive rounds of sanctions kicked off in 2918 after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with six major world powers. Washington is trying to force Tehran back to the negotiation table by squeezing it economically.

The five companies blacklisted by the US Treasury on Thursday include Petro Grand FZE, Alphabet International DMCC, Swissol Trade DMCC, Alam Althrwa General Trading LLC and Alwaneo LLC Co. All of them are accused by the US of buying the petroleum products in 2019 from the National Iranian Oil Company for delivery to the United Arab Emirates.

Thursday’s round of sanctions freezes any US-held assets of the companies and generally bar Americans from doing business with them.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies