U.S. officials are warning allies that they should prepare to cut oil imports from Iran to zero by November and that Washington will grant no waivers from secondary sanctions against foreign companies that continue to do business with Tehran, a State Department official said Tuesday.
“We’re going to isolate streams of Iranian funding and highlight the totality of Iran’s malign behavior across the region,” said the senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under State Department ground rules.
The official spoke to reporters by telephone in the middle of a worldwide road trip he and other officials are making to urge governments to start decreasing their imports from Iran in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last month.
Trump’s decision to abandon the landmark agreement and reimpose sanctions is a strain on relations with U.S. allies, most of which consider the move ill-
advised. Britain, France and Germany, which negotiated the nuclear deal with the United States, say they intend to uphold their commitments and still do business with Iran. They have asked the administration to grant waivers to protect their companies in key sectors such as energy, banking, aviation and pharmaceuticals.
But the administration says that door is closed.
“We’re not granting waivers,” the State Department official said.
The Nov. 4 deadline is 180 days after Trump withdrew from the deal, a window before sanctions take effect.
“What we’ve been telling them in bilateral meetings is they should be preparing now to go to zero,” the official said.
Oil prices jumped 3.6 percent on the news, topping $70 for the first time since May.
The administration is taking a multifaceted approach to sever Iran from the dollar-based world financial system. The United States seeks to drop Iranian banks from institutions such as the SWIFT system, a network that facilitates international financial transactions, and to increase scrutiny on Iran by the Financial Action Task Force, an organization that combats money laundering and terrorist financing.
The official has already traveled to several European and Asian capitals outlining U.S. expectations, and will visit China and India next. U.S. officials also will go to the Persian Gulf seeking assurances that the oil-rich nations will increase production to replace Iranian oil that will be under sanctions.
Despite the U.S. withdrawal, the International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran is continuing to meet its nuclear commitments under the deal. The administration is targeting Iran’s nonnuclear activities — involvement in regional conflicts, ballistic-missile testing and human rights violations — that were not part of its 2015 agreement with six world economic powers.
“The vast majority of countries are willing to adhere to and support our approach to this, because they view it as a threat,” the official said. “It’s worse since 2015, not better, on the regional activity side.”
The U.S. push is coming amid rising unrest in Iran as the government appears to be reverting to a “resistance economy” that was the norm before sanctions were suspended under the deal.
The Iranian rial is plunging in value to a record low, causing the government to ban the import of more than 1,300 products, from household appliances to shoes. Bazaar merchants in Tehran have mounted protests against the rising prices.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told Iranians on Tuesday that the country can handle the pressure of more U.S. sanctions, which he characterized as “psychological, economic and political war.”
“Even in the worst case, I promise that the basic needs of Iranians will be provided,” he said in a televised address. “We have enough sugar, wheat and cooking oil. We have enough foreign currency to inject into the market.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with CNN conducted Sunday that the administration’s goal is to push Iran to act like “a normal country.”
“Don’t conduct terrorism; don’t launch missiles into international airports; don’t be the world’s largest state sponsor of terror; comport with nuclear requirements,” he said.
“None of these are things that are difficult or somehow singling out Iran. But rather, we’re asking them to do the things that nations that are part of the community of nations do so that they can behave in normal commerce, normal diplomatic relationships, all of the things that we’re looking for.”