US hits Chinese firms in 'max pressure' campaign on Iran

US will teach foreign governments trading with Iran breaches American sanctions and comes at a cost, Mike Pompeo says.

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    Speaking at an annual meeting of anti-Tehran hawks, Pompeo says the US will target Chinese firms [Darren Ornitz/Reuters]
    Speaking at an annual meeting of anti-Tehran hawks, Pompeo says the US will target Chinese firms [Darren Ornitz/Reuters]

    New York City - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new sanctions on Chinese firms for trading oil with Iran on Wednesday during a week of frantic diplomacy after this month's drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

    Speaking at an annual meet of anti-Tehran hawks, organised by United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), Pompeo said the United States would target Chinese firms and their executives as part of Washington's ongoing "maximum pressure" campaign on Tehran.

    "We're telling China, and all nations: know that we will sanction every violation of sanctions of all activity," said Pompeo.

    The US was also seeking to split the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is responsible for safeguarding the regime and has major business assets, from the rest of the Iranian economy, said Pompeo. 

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    Washington will teach foreign governments that trading with the IRGC breaches US sanctions and comes at a cost, warned Pompeo.

    "The United States will intensify our efforts to educate countries and companies on the risk of doing business with IRGC entities, and we will punish them if they persist in defiance of our warnings," said Pompeo.

    He spoke on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where leaders from Europe, the Middle East, and the US grappled with the fallout from the September 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

    The US, Saudi Arabia, the UK, France and Germany blame Tehran for the attacks, allegations Iran strenuously denies. The missile and drone attacks were claimed by Yemen's rebel Houthi movement, which has been battling a Saudi-led coalition since 2015.

    At the UN on Wednesday, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters it had become "increasingly difficult" to maintain the multi-nation 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, following Trump's decision to exit the pact and reimpose sanctions last year. 

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    "We will continue to work together with unity of purpose to try and preserve it without ignoring the challenges," Moghernini told journalists after a meeting of the deal's remaining signatories at UN headquarters.

    European powers have promised to stick with the accord, which exchanged sanctions relief for rollbacks to Iran's nuclear programme, after the US withdrew in May 2018 saying it did not go far enough to deter Tehran's missiles tech and support for foreign militias.

    French diplomats have scrambled to set up face-to-face talks at the UN between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani to defuse tensions between the long-standing foes.

    'Harshest sanctions'

    Addressing UN members on Wednesday, Rouhani said he was not open to talks. Previously, he said he was willing to make small changes, additions or amendments to the 2015 deal in exchange for the US lifting sanctions.

    "I would like to announce that our response to any negotiation under sanctions is negative," Rouhani told the 193-member body.

    "The government and people of Iran have remained steadfast against the harshest sanctions in the past one and a half years ago and will never negotiate with an enemy that seeks to make Iran surrender with the weapon of poverty, pressure and sanction." 

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    At the UANI meeting, Ron Dermer, Washington's ambassador to Israel, said even though US sanctions had not yet changed Iranian behaviour, the curbs imposed were crippling the country's economy.

    "This biggest impact of this maximum pressure policy hasn't changed Iran's behaviour, it hasn't forced Iran to" renegotiate the nuclear deal, Dermer told the gathering of diplomats and analysts.

    "But it has starved the world's most dangerous regime of ultimately hundreds of billions of dollars … This administration has starved the Iranian regime of the money for its war machine."

    Attendees disrupted the UANI meeting several times throughout the morning, with activists unfurling banners and demanding peacemaking with Tehran, while angry members of the Iranian diaspora blasted their homeland's "terrorist regime".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News