By Agence France-Presse
WASHINGTON(AFP) – The United States is re-imposing punitive measures targeting the Iranian oil and financial sectors in what US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called “the toughest sanctions ever placed” against Iran.
Taking effect Monday, the measures are the most concrete result yet of US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision in May to abandon the multi-nation nuclear deal with Tehran.
They will directly affect companies from third countries doing business with Iran. They could upset world oil markets, though the US has granted temporary waivers to eight jurisdictions to continue importing Iranian oil.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the measures on Saturday, saying Trump had “disgraced” US prestige and would be the ultimate loser in the long-running quarrel between the countries.
“I announce that we will proudly bypass your illegal, unjust sanctions because it’s against international regulations,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech.
“We are in a situation of economic war, confronting a bullying power. I don’t think that in the history of America, someone has entered the White House who is so against law and international conventions,” he added.
The latest tranche aim to significantly cut Iran’s oil exports – which have already fallen by around one million barrels a day since May – and cut it off from international finance.
The United States has given temporary exemptions to eight countries – including India, Japan, China, South Korea and Turkey – to continue buying oil in a bid to avoid disturbing their economies and global markets.
But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to push Iran’s oil sales to zero.
“Watch what we do. Watch as we’ve already taken more crude oil off the market than any time in previous history,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Trump’s administration says it wants a new deal with Iran that curbs its interventions around the Middle East and missile program – demands that have been flatly rejected by Tehran.
“Constantly they are sending us messages saying ‘Let’s sit and negotiate.’ Negotiations for what?” said Rouhani.
“First, you respect the negotiations we already concluded, so that there are grounds for the next negotiations.”
‘Act on your commitments’
Rouhani said four countries had approached him during his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly in September, offering to mediate with the US but he turned them down.
“There is no need for mediation. There is no need for all these messages. Act on your commitments, and we will sit and talk,” he said.
Iran’s economy was already suffering from major structural problems – including major banking issues – before Trump walked out of the nuclear deal.
But Trump’s announcement in May helped fuel a run on Iran’s currency that has seen the rial lose more than two thirds of its value, driving up prices and forcing the government to resort to food handouts for the country’s poor.
Rouhani came to power in 2013, vowing to rebuild ties with the world and attract billions of dollars in foreign investment.
The other parties to the nuclear deal – Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia – have all vehemently opposed the US move and vowed to keep trade going, though they are struggling to convince private companies to stand up to US pressure.
Most of the international firms who lined up to work in Iran after the 2015 deal have been forced to leave, including France’s Total, Peugeot and Renault, Germany’s Siemens.
“Today, it’s not just us who are angry with America’s policies. Even European companies and governments are angry with America’s policies,” said Rouhani.
World oil markets were on alert, nervously set to gauge the consequences of the sanctions.
“All eyes will be on Iranian exports, whether there will be some cheating around US sanctions, and on how quickly production will fall,” said Riccardo Fabiani, an analyst for Energy Aspects.
Oil is Iran’s main source of income. But the sword has two edges: Iran is also the OPEC cartel’s third-largest producer.