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US imposes sanctions on companies accused of dealing with Iranian oil broker

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Ali Khamenei/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has imposed sanctions on several companies in China, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore that it says were used by an Iranian petrochemical broker to sell Iranian products to East Asia.

The move is the latest in a stepped-up effort to enforce U.S. sanctions on Iran designed to slash its revenues from oil and petrochemicals to pressure Iran amid negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The U.S. Treasury Department on August 1 accused the designated companies of being used by Iran’s Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industry Commercial Company to facilitate the sale of petroleum and petrochemical products from Iran to East Asia.

The sanctions were imposed on four Hong Kong-based companies, one based in the United Arab Emirates, and one in Singapore, according to a Treasury Department statement.

The action freezes any U.S.-based assets and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions with the firms also risk being hit by sanctions.

U.S. President Joe Biden has refrained from imposing sanctions on Chinese entities engaged in the oil and petrochemical trade with Iran as his administration pursues a revival of the nuclear deal.

Efforts to resurrect the deal have so far failed, leading the U.S. administration to look for other ways to increase pressure on Iran.

“The United States continues to pursue the path of diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” said Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, referring to the 2015 deal by its formal name.

“Until such time as Iran is ready to return to full implementation of its commitments, we will continue to enforce sanctions on the illicit sale of Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals,” Nelson said in the statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Nelson’s statement and said that the six designated entities had facilitated “illicit transactions related to Iranian petroleum as well as petroleum and petrochemical products, key sources of revenue for the Iranian government.”

The nuclear deal gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, which Iran has said is strictly for peaceful purposes.

The U.S. withdrew from the accord in 2018 unilaterally under then-President Donald Trump and began reimposing economic sanctions, prompting Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments under the deal.

Negotiations to restore the deal have been stalled since March amid differences between Tehran and Washington on several issues.

Iran said on August 1 it remains “optimistic” about a possible revival of the deal after the European Union put forth a proposal aiming for a compromise.

“The Iranian side has carefully reviewed the text and presented its views,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said at a news conference. “It is possible that in the near future we can reach a conclusion regarding the timetable for the negotiations.”

He added that there would probably be a new round of negotiations depending on “the willingness of the other side, especially the American side.”

The comments came after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell submitted a new draft text and urged the negotiators to accept it or “risk a dangerous nuclear crisis.”

Borrell said the draft text includes “hard-won compromises by all sides” and “addresses, in precise detail, the sanctions lifting as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore” the 2015 pact.