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US to ‘help’ countries replace Iran oil, may consider waivers


This handout photo from India’s Ministry of External Affairs taken on Sept 6 shows US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (left), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (second left), Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (second right) and Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (right), posing for photos as they present media statements in New Delhi on Sept 6. (AFP)

NEW DELHI, Sept 6, (Agencies): Washington will consider waivers for Iranian oil buyers such as India but they must eventually halt imports as sanctions are imposed on Tehran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

Pompeo, who is in Delhi with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for talks with their Indian counterparts, told reporters some buyers of Iranian oil would take a “a litle bit of time” to unwind their trade with Iran.

The United States is pushing all countries to halt oil imports from Iran after President Donald Trump in May withdrew from a 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers and ordered a re-imposition of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Some sanctions came in effect on Aug 6 and the rest, notably in the petroleum sector, will take hold on Nov 4. Trump has warned that anyone trading with Iran would not do business with the United States. “We will consider waivers where appropriate but that it is our expectation that the purchases of Iranian crude oil will go to zero from every country or sanctions will be imposed. So we’ll work with the Indians, we committed that we will do that,” Pompeo said.

Despite Trump’s efforts, government officials in India, the world’s third-biggest oil importer and Iran’s top oil client after China, say that it would be difficult to fully halt supplies from Tehran. “Many countries are in a place where it takes a little bit of time to unwind and we’ll work with them I’m sure to find an outcome that makes sense,” Pompeo said, adding that the United States would be ‘happy’ if Iranian oil is replaced with American products.

Nevertheless, India’s August oil imports from Iran plunged by a third as the state refiners waited for government permission to buy oil using Iranian tankers and cover. In a sign of New Delhi’s desire to keep buying Iranian oil, Reuters reported this week that India had allowed its state refiners to use Tehran’s tanker and insurance cover after western and Indian shippers started winding down their Iran operations ahead of the Nov. 4 deadline. To lure Indian buyers and protect is oil revenue, Iran has been offering extended credit terms and almost free shipping. “But our mission set is to ensure that Iran doesn’t engage in malign behavior with wealth that comes from countries around the world. Thus the purpose of the sanctions,” Pompeo said.

Iran will begin uranium enrichment beyond previous levels if the remaining parties fail to uphold the 2015 nuclear deal, its Atomic Energy Organisation told local media on Wednesday. “We will not return to previous levels if our counterparts leave the JCPOA (nuclear deal), but will instead reach even more advanced levels,” the organisation’s spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said, quoted by state broadcaster IRIB. “We are at a considerably more advanced status than when we signed the deal. The country is moving ahead in nuclear activities at a favourable pace,” he added.

Iran has repeatedly said it will resume high-level uranium enrichment if the 2015 agreement — which stringently limits its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief — falls apart. Following the withdrawal of the United States in May, the other parties — Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the EU — havvowed to provide Iran with enough economic benefits to keep the agreement alive. But Tehran is increasingly sceptical that those countries can counter the effects of renewed US sanctions, which have already battered Iran’s economy.

Last week, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran should be ready to “set aside” the agreement if it is no longer in the country’s national interests. The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly stated that Iran is sticking to its commitments. The administration of US President Donald Trump claims the deal did not prevent Iran from eventually working towards a nuclear weapon — which Tehran has denied it is seeking. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States and Israel on Thursday of waging a media war to discourage Iranians, state TV reported, as the country faces economic hardship after the reimposition of US sanctions.

The rial currency has lost about twothirds of its value this year under the threat of the sanctions, reimposed by President Donald Trump after he withdrew Washington from a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers. The cost of living has also soared, sparking sporadic demonstrations against profiteering and corruption, with many protestors chanting antigovernment slogans.

“Today, (Iran’s) Islamic system faces an all-out economic war that is carefully guided by a war room, but along with this war, there is a major media and propaganda warfare that is often neglected,” Khamenei told members of a senior clerical body. Iranian officials have blamed popular messaging apps and social media campaigns which they say are organised overseas for protests against the flagging economy which erupted in December, spreading to more than 80 cities and towns and resulting in 25 deaths.

“The goal of this media war is to create anxiety … and pessimism among people towards each other and the authorities, and to exaggerate economic problems in the minds of the public,” the television quoted Khamenei as saying. “Based on our intelligence, the US and Zionist (Israeli) spy agencies, financed by the super-rich of our region, have set up an organisation for this media war and are seriously planning and trying to infect the advertising space and the minds in our community,” Khamenei said.

Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival, and the United Arab Emirates have backed Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Tehran, reflecting the wealthy oil exporters’ concern about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and support for militant groups. Trump said on Wednesday he remained open to the possibility of talks between Washington and Tehran. However, he added: “Iran is in turmoil right now. They’re in total turmoil.”

“Now they are just worrying about their own survival as a country,” he told reporters, without offering any evidence. Iran’s foreign minister sharply criticized President Donald Trump Wednesday for abusing the US presidency of the Security Council this month by holding a meeting on Iran’s international activities during the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN in late September.

Mohammad Javad Zarif was responding in a tweet to US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement Tuesday that Trump will chair a meeting to address “violations of international law and general instability Iran sows throughout the entire Middle East region.” She accused Iran of supporting terrorism and destabilizing activities in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria.

Zarif tweeted that Trump “plans to abuse presidency of SC to divert a session — item devoted to Palestine for 70 yrs — to blame Iran for horrors US & clients have unleashed across ME (Middle East).” He also accused Trump of violating a 2015 UN Security Council resolution, number 2231, that endorsed the Iran nuclear deal. The president withdrew the United States from the nuclear accord between Iran and six major powers in May.

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