Trump administration announces all countries importing Iranian oil will be subject to US sanctions

President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration announced Monday that all countries that continue to import Iranian oil will be subject to US sanctions.

In a statement, the White House said President Donald Trump “has decided not to reissue” waivers regarding sanctions against countries importing Iranian oil when the waivers expire “in early May.” The exact deadline is May 2.

“This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue,” the statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders read.

The development was first reported by The Washington Post.

Speaking Monday at a press conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “the goal remains simple: to deprive the outlaw regime of the funds it had used to destabilize the Middle East for four decades and incentivize Iran to behave like a normal country.”

Noting that oil is “the regime’s No. 1 source of cash,” Pompeo said that prior to the implementation of US sanctions, Iran was generating “as much as $50 billion annually,” from oil exports, but that the department estimates the sanctions have “denied the regime well north of $10 billion.”

“How long we remain there — at zero — depends solely on the Islamic Republic (of) Iran’s senior leaders,” he added.

“We have made our demands very clear to the ayatollah and his cronies: end your pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop testing and proliferating ballistic missiles, stop sponsoring and committing terrorism, halt the arbitrary detention of US citizens. Our pressure is aimed at ending these and others and it will continue to accelerate until Iran is willing to address them at the negotiating table,” Pompeo said.

Countries that continue to import Iranian oil in large amounts include India, China, South Korea, Japan and Turkey. Ahead of today’s announcement South Korean officials told CNN that they had struggled with the US demand because their oil refineries are specifically setup to process crude oil from Iran.

Pompeo also said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to “ensure an appropriate supply (of oil) for the markets” in order to make up for the loss of Iranian oil in the global market.

“I can confirm that each of those suppliers are working directly with Iran’s former customers to make the transition away from Iranian crude less disruptive,” he said.

After the announcement from the US, Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih said the country will coordinate with other oil producers “to ensure the availability of enough oil supplies for consumers and to ensure global oil markets are not knocked off balance.”

The US will also aid the dearth in supply, Pompeo said. The US produced 1.6 million more barrels of oil in 2018 than in 2017, and is on track to increase production in 2019 as well.

But given the ongoing crises in both Venezuela and Libya, which are two major oil supplying countries, there are fears that the US decision will make the oil market more unstable

When asked about the spike in oil process on Monday — as Brent crude prices surged more than 3% to the highest price seen all year — and if the US expects that spike to level out, the State Department would not give a direct answer.

Francis Fannon, the Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, explained that “it is hard to conflate” the Trump administration’s announcement with other factors such as OPEC planning to curtail production. “There’s lots of reasons in terms of what effects oil markets.”

The announcement comes nearly one year after Trump announced the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been the most vocal proponent of Trump’s actions against Iran, praised the move Monday.

“The decision of President Trump and the American administration is of great importance to increase the pressure on the terror regime of Iran,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We stand by the determination of the United States against the Iranian aggression and this is the right way to stop it.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu firmly rejected the Trump administration decision on Monday, saying via Twitter that “the US decision to end sanctions waivers on Iran oil imports will not serve regional peace and stability yet will harm Iranian people. Turkey rejects unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbors.”

He went further during a press conference in Ankara, saying that “pushing buying oil from countries besides Iran goes too far. Turkey is against those steps and impositions,” according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

A senior Iraqi official said Monday that Trump’s decision to end waivers for the purchase of Iranian oil exports, and pressure Iraq to end its purchase of Iranian power is a “serious problem.”

“Iraq needs good relations with Iran. The US has one policy focus, which is to bring Iran down and are looking through this prism. The situation is precarious. The Americans need a nuanced policy. This drive by the White House risks disrupting Iraq. If they really want a policy towards Iran, they should look at strengthening Iraq. But given that much of our assets are in the Federal Reserve the Americans can make life very difficult for us,” the official told CNN.

Not everyone is in full support of the Trump administration’s muscular posture towards Iran and some worry that the administration is trying to incite a revolution to overthrow the Iranian regime.

On Monday Pompeo said that the US has “not supported any outside group” — such as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, known as the MEK. The Trump administration is supporting the Iranian people, he added.

However, last week Pompeo did not issue a firm denial when he was asked if the Trump administration was seeking a military confrontation with Iran, within the contours of the Authorization to Use Military Force legislation. Instead, he left the door slightly ajar.

“The United States and President Trump will act lawfully. He’ll act within his authorities,” Pompeo said. “Article 2 gives broad powers, the AUMF gives a set of broad powers, but they are — we understand them.”

By Devan Cole and Kylie Atwood, CNN

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