The Trump administration expects all countries to reduce their Iranian oil imports to zero or face US sanctions, a senior State Department official said Tuesday as oil prices surged.
No exceptions will be made for countries that currently buy oil from Tehran, the official said.
“We view this as one of our top national security priorities,” the official told reporters on a conference call. “I would be hesitant to say, ‘zero waivers ever,’ (but) I think the predisposition would be no, we’re not granting waivers.”
This latest messaging from the administration suggests the Trump administration is holding a hard line with its international allies as it withdraws from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement under which Iran rolled back its nuclear program in exchange for broad sanctions relief.
Oil prices spike
Washington’s tough stance sent oil prices surging. US crude spiked 3.5% to about $70.50 a barrel. Prices have climbed sharply this year, in part due to concerns about US sanctions on Iran disrupting supply from the OPEC nation.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about oil prices being too high, even though his own policies have played a role.
“Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again,” Trump tweeted last month. “Not good!”
Last week, OPEC agreed to pump more oil to compensate for the loss of barrels from Iran.
The administration announced it was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in May, giving companies and governments six months to wind down energy-related activities before sanctions are re-imposed on November 4.
Germany, France and the United Kingdom – the European signatories to the deal known collectively as the E3 – opposed the US decision to leave the deal and have lobbied the White House not to impose so-called “secondary sanctions” on their companies that do business in Iran, in hopes of upholding the agreement without US participation.
“We remain engaged with the E3 throughout this process,” the senior State Department official said, “and we are going to continue to branch out in new countries and reach new partners as the weeks go forward.”
US officials have traveled in recent weeks to Europe and Asia to try and garner support of the administration’s tougher Iran policy.
“We have had secondary sanctions in place with regards to Iran since 1996 – the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act,” the official noted. “These are discussions we are extremely used to having.”
“We have a lot of diplomatic muscle memory for urging, cajoling, negotiating with our partners to reduce their investments to zero,” the official added, while acknowledging their message “is sometimes challenging,” for US partners.
Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, told CNN’s John Defterios last week that he was already seeing customers turning away due to the US sanctions.
“You cannot impose unilateral trade sanctions,” Zanganeh said, “and at the same time expect the global oil market not to show adverse reaction.”
CNN’s Matthew Egan contributed to this report