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US warns of severe penalties for firms continuing sanctionable commerce with Iran

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: November 5, 2018  | 22:23 IST

By Lalit K Jha Washington, Nov 5 (PTI) The US on Monday warned companies globally that they would be subject to severe penalties if they continued to have sanctionable commercial transactions with Iran, as it tightened the nooses around the Iranian regime with a set of toughest ever American sanctions. "If a company evades our sanctions regime and secretly continues sanctionable commerce in the Islamic Republic, the US will levy severe, swift penalties on it, including potential sanctions," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. The US on Monday imposed "the toughest ever" sanctions on a defiant Iran aimed at altering the Iranian regime's "behaviour". The sanctions cover Iran's banking and energy sectors and reinstate penalties for countries and companies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that do not halt Iranian oil imports. "I promise you that doing business with Iran in defiance of our sanctions will ultimately be a much more painful business decision than pulling out of Iran and being connected to Iran entirely," he told foreign reporters. Asserting that the US wants Iran to change its behaviour, Pompeo said that at the center of it is an unprecedented campaign of economic pressure. "Our objective is to starve the Iranian regime of the revenue it uses to fund violent and destabilising activities throughout the Middle East and, indeed, around the world," he said. In May President Donald Trump had announced withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama. Since then the US has imposed a series of sanctions on Iran, with the toughest one kicking off Monday. "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," Pompeo said and hoped that a new agreement with Iran is possible. "But until Iran makes changes in the 12 ways that I listed in May, we will be relentless in exerting pressure on the regime," he said. Pompeo alleged that Iran has been "underwriting Lebanese Hezbollah, that presents a threat to the US and to Israel; underwriting the Houthis in Yemen, causing an enormous conflict to take place there in that country; the efforts in Iraq to undermine the Iraqi government, funding Shia militias that are not in the best interest of the Iraqi people; their efforts in Syria." Joining the press conference, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Iran will face mounting financial isolation and economic stagnation until they fundamentally change their destabilising behaviour. On Monday, the Department of Treasury in its largest ever single-day action targeting the Iranian regime, sanctioned more than 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels. "Iran's leaders must cease support for terrorism, stop proliferating ballistic missiles, end destructive regional activities, and abandon their nuclear ambitions immediately if they seek a path to sanctions relief," he said. "The maximum pressure exerted by the US 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," he warned. National Security Advisor John Bolton said the US is not going to give permanent waivers to any country and the aim of the Trump administration is to drive the Iranian oil exports to zero. "We've said for a long time, zero should mean zero. But some countries that, for the last three or four years, had been able to purchase oil from Iran needs some time to get down to zero. These are not permanent waivers, no way. We are going to do everything we can to squeeze Iran hard," he told Fox Business News. The US has announced to provide temporary exemptions to eight countries including India and China from the Iranian sanctions noting that they have significantly reduced their import of Iranian oil. "The aim is to drive Iranian oil exports to zero. We're working with other countries to get alternative supplies for countries that are buying and I think that's critical over an extended period of time," he said. Asserting that the US is going to have sanctions that even go beyond this, he said the Trump administration is not simply going to be content with the level of sanctions that existed under Obama in 2015. "More are coming and even more important, perhaps, is we are actually going to have very strict, very tight enforcement of the sanctions that do exist," he said. "Iran, right now, is in the escape and evasion mode. They're going to try and get around the sanctions, we're determined to prevent that," Bolton said. The sanctions in the aggregate are already having an enormous effect on Iran, he said. "We've already seen the consequences in Iran. The rial, the currency's declined about 70 per cent since the sanctions, inflation has quadrupled, the country is in recession," he said. "I think this is going to cut into Iran's ability to continue their nuclear program, the financed terrorism, and to engage in military activity around the Middle East, and I think we're already seeing that, Bolton said. Congressman Ted Poe praised Trump for the new sanctions. In an op-ed in the Financial Times, Mnuchin said that with the full re-imposition of sanctions, the Trump Administration is closing a chapter on a nuclear deal that President Trump deemed "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into". PTI LKJ ZH ZH ZH

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