WASHINGTON – The US is ending waivers for countries to import Iranian oil, part of the Trump administration’s effort to drive Iran’s exports to zero, the White House said on Monday.
The US had previously granted eight countries a 180-day waiver to continue to buy Iranian crude despite US sanctions, provided that each took steps to reduce purchases and move toward ending imports. The deadline for renewing the waivers was set to fall on May 2.
“The Trump Administration and our allies are determined to sustain and expand the maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran to end the regime’s destabilizing activity threatening the United States, our partners and allies, and security in the Middle East,” the White House said.
China, India and Turkey were among Iran’s top customers and had been expecting to receive renewed waivers. China said it opposes US unilateral sanctions. “China-Iran cooperation is open, transparent and in accordance with law, it should be respected,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry.
Earlier this month, the State Department’s top envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, said that three jurisdictions out of the eight that received oil waivers last year had already moved to zero imports.
Hook didn’t name them, but analysts that study the oil market have said Italy, Greece and Taiwan have halted imports this year.
US sanctions targeting oil exports from Iran and Venezuela have tightened global supply and driven prices higher this year. Markets also are watching the latest outbreak of chaos in Libya, which has been pumping more than 1.2 million barrels of oil a day.
The uncertainty has helped cause the global benchmark oil price to rally to its highest levels in nearly six months, surging above $74 a barrel on Sunday evening.
The US, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, “are committed to ensuring that global oil markets remain adequately supplied,” the White House said. “We have agreed to take timely action to assure that global demand is met as all Iranian oil is removed from the market.”
While US sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy and strained the government’s budget, they haven’t led Tehran to pull back from its military role in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad or scale back its paramilitary role in the region, both US goals.
Iran is on track to be a foreign-policy issue in the lead-up to next year’s US presidential election, with some Democratic candidates pledging to return to the 2015 nuclear accord. Trump withdrew from the pact with Iran and six major powers last year, undoing the flagship foreign policy effort that marked his predecessor’s administration.
The decision to end oil waivers comes after months of pressure by Republican hawks such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Tom Cotton (R., Ark) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) to act decisively to curb Iran’s finances.
The Trump administration has outlined 12 demands of Iran that include requiring Tehran to give up its right to enrich uranium, which it retained under the 2015 agreement; cease its support for militant groups such as Hamas; and stop issuing threats against Israel.
Iran’s leaders have said they have no interest in negotiating with the Trump administration on those demands.