US hits Iran with new sanctions, threatens more to curb Tehran's ‘destabilizing behavior’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, (L), and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, present details of the new sanctions on Iran, at the Foreign Press Center in Washington on Nov. 5, 2018. (AP)
Updated 06 November 2018
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US hits Iran with new sanctions, threatens more to curb Tehran's ‘destabilizing behavior’

  • Eight major importers of Iranian oil were spared from immediate penalties
  • The sanctions end all the economic benefits the US granted Tehran for its 2015 nuclear deal

LONDON: The United States announced a new raft of sanctions on Iran on Monday and threatened further action if Tehran did not halt its destabilizing behavior.

The new measures cover 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 persons and vessels in its shipping sector, and targets Tehran’s national airline, Iran Air, and more than 65 of its aircraft.

The move restore all the US sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear accord that gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. It brought to more than 900 the number of Iran-related targets sanctioned by the Trump administration in less than two years.

“The Iranian regime has a choice: it can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“We hope a new agreement with Iran is possible," he added. “Rest assured, Iran will never come close to getting a nuclear weapon on President Trump's watch.”

Pompeo also said that “Saudi Arabia has supported our efforts in fighting terrorism while Iran is destabilizing the region.”

The move restores, and strengthens, sanctions lifted under a 2015 international agreement on Iran's nuclear programme from which Washington withdrew in May.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the move “should make clear to the Iranian regime that they will face mounting financial isolation and economic stagnation until they fundamentally change their destabilizing behavior.

“The maximum pressure exerted by the United States is only going to mount from here. We are intent on making sure the Iranian regime stops siphoning its hard currency reserves into corrupt investments and the hands of terrorists.”

Pompeo said more than 20 countries had already cut their oil imports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day.

He confirmed the US had granted exemptions to eight countries allowing them to temporarily continue buying Iranian oil.

Some of the eight countries — China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea — include OPEC member Iran’s top customers.

Pompeo said the waivers, which expire in six months, were necessary to avoid disruption of world oil markets and to give the eight countries more time to eliminate their imports. 

During those six months, the importing country can buy Iranian oil but must deposit Iran’s revenue in an escrow account. Iran can spend the money but only on a narrow range of humanitarian items.

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KEY POINTS:

  • Sanctions target more than 700 Iranian and Iranian-linked individuals, entities, aircraft and vessels
  • Among those are 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 people and ships, Iran Air and more than 65 of its planes
  • Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and China to continue to purchase Iranian oil as long as they work to reduce imports to zero
  • European and other banks and businesses face secondary sanctions if Washington deems them in breach of sanctions
  • SWIFT is suspending some unspecified Iranian banks’ access to its messaging system in the interests of the stability and integrity of the global financial system

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The SWIFT banking network, the backbone for international monetary transfers, said Monday it has suspended several Iranian banks from its service, after the United States reimposed nuclear sanctions on Tehran.
"In keeping with our mission of supporting the resilience and integrity of the global financial system as a global and neutral service provider, SWIFT is suspending certain Iranian banks' access to the messaging system," it said.
"This step, while regrettable, has been taken in the interest of the stability and integrity of the wider global financial system."
SWIFT, the Belgian-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, provides banks with a secure messenger network to allow international transfers.
Without its services, Iranian banks will find it more difficult to do business with any client prepared to brave US sanctions to maintain ties with Tehran.

Sanctions have already cost Iran billions of dollars in oil revenue since May, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook, said on Monday.
"Our oil sanctions have taken off 1 million barrels of Iranian oil off the market, and that alone has reduced the regime's revenues by more than $2 billion," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed what he called US President Donald Trump’s courageous decision in reimposing US sanctions on Iran.

“This day is a historic day,” Netanyahu said. “I would like to again thank US President Donald Trump for the courageous, determined and important decision. I think this contributes to stability and security and peace.”

His comments were predictably in contrast to Iran, which greeted the re-imposition of US sanctions with air defense drills and an acknowledgement from President Hassan Rouhani the nation faces a “war situation,” raising Middle East tensions as America’s maximalist approach to the Islamic Republic takes hold.

“Today, Iran is able to sell its oil and it will sell,” Rouhani vowed Monday as the sanctions kicked in.

“We are in the war situation, ” Rouhani said. “We are in the economic war situation. We are confronting a bullying enemy. We have to stand to win.”

Iranian state television aired footage of air defense systems and anti-aircraft batteries in two-day military maneuvers underway across a vast stretch of the country’s north. It included surface-to-air missiles shooting down a drone.

The drill was to continue through Tuesday. Iranian army Gen. Habibillah Sayyari said both the national army and the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard were taking part in the exercise.

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READ MORE:

China to continue Iran trade despite new US sanctions

Iran will sell oil, break US sanctions, President Rouhani says

How US sanctions will hit Iran

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Iran is already in the grip of an economic crisis. Its national currency, the rial, now trades at 145,000 to one US dollar, down from when it traded 40,500 to $1 a year ago. The economic chaos sparked mass anti-government protests at the end of last year which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people being killed. Sporadic demonstrations still continue.

Rouhani separately said leaders from “four powers” met with Iran on the sidelines of the September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to try to save the deal, including brokering a possible meeting with Trump. 

He did not name those countries, but was likely referring to China, France, Russia and Britain, which along with Germany made up the world powers involved in the 2015 nuclear deal.

The European Union, France, Germany and Britain said they regretted the US decision and would seek to protect European companies doing legitimate business with Tehran.

*With Reuters, AP and AFP.

Decoder

SANCTIONS: The Key Points

- Sanctions target more than 700 Iranian and Iranian-linked individuals, entities, aircraft and vessels - Among those are 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 people and ships, Iran Air and more than 65 of its planes - Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey and China to continue to purchase Iranian oil as long as they work to reduce imports to zero - European and other banks and businesses face secondary sanctions if Washington deems them in breach of sanctions - SWIFT is suspending some unspecified Iranian banks’ access to its messaging system in the interests of the stability and integrity of the global financial system


Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Updated 23 January 2019
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Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.