US grants China and Singapore waiver from Iran sanctions
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US grants China and Singapore waiver from Iran sanctions

Clinton says the two countries have reduced Iranian oil purchases enough to be granted exemptions; Italy, Japan, Turkey and 15 others already exempt

Illustrative photo of a tanker carrying crude oil (Shay Levy/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a tanker carrying crude oil (Shay Levy/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — While much of Washington was preoccupied with the US Supreme Court’s ruling on President Obama’s healthcare law on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quietly made an important announcement regarding US sanctions on Iran. She said the administration is issuing waivers to China and Singapore that will exempt them from sanctions that go in effect today that would have cut their banks off from the US financial system as punishment for not making significant reductions in their purchases of Iranian oil.

Today, I have made the determination that two additional countries, China and Singapore, have significantly reduced their volume of crude oil purchases from Iran

“Today, I have made the determination that two additional countries, China and Singapore, have significantly reduced their volume of crude oil purchases from Iran,” said Secretary Clinton. “As a result, I will report to the Congress that sanctions pursuant to…the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 will not apply to their financial institutions for a potentially renewable period of 180 days.”

The move brings to 20 the number of countries deemed by the US as having reduced oil purchases from Tehran in a significant enough way to qualify for the exemption. India, Japan and Turkey have already been granted waivers and another major Iranian oil importer, South Korea, recently declared its intention to completely stop its purchases.

Referring to these countries, Clinton said, “Their cumulative actions are a clear demonstration to Iran’s government that Iran’s continued violation of its international nuclear obligations carries an enormous economic cost.”

Their cumulative  actions are a clear demonstration to Iran’s government that Iran’s continued violation of its international nuclear obligations carries an enormous economic cost

Under legislation signed by  Obama in December, the US must sanction countries that continue purchasing large quantities of Iranian oil through Iran’s Central Bank by cutting off financial institutions involved in the transactions from the US banking system.

On Sunday, a European oil embargo against Iran, along with a ban on oil tanker insurance, go into effect as the West steps up efforts to thwart Iran’s determination to continue enriching uranium in defiance of UN resolutions.

Analysts say these measures will cost Iran about $4 billion a month and deprive Tehran of 18 percent of its oil sales. They credit Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers for increasing output to keep the markets steady. In fact, prices at the pump have fallen in the US over the past few weeks.

Although US officials say the sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy and point to them as the reason Iran was willing to return to talks with the five members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5+1, skeptics point out that those talks ended without an agreement.

“At the end of the day, [current sanctions] have not persuaded Tehran to make even the minimum compromises that would be acceptable to the P5+1,” write Patrick Clawson and Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Expecting the new sanctions alone to spur Iran toward a more favorable position may therefore be unrealistic.”

Expecting the new sanctions alone to spur Iran toward a more favorable position may therefore be unrealistic

“The challenge for the P5+1 is to change the perceptions of Iranian leaders — a difficult task given their remarkable ignorance about the outside world, combined with self-confidence and ideological blinders that lead them to believe Iran is the rising power and the West is on the decline. Ultimately, changing this mindset may require a profound shock of some sort, be it remarkably tough sanctions, more-complete political isolation, or military action.”

The next round of talks between Iran and West is scheduled for July 3 in Istanbul — but it is being held at the level of technical experts, rather than the weightier ministerial level. Clinton said that failure by Iran “to take concrete steps toward resolving the nuclear issue” during those meetings “will result in continuing pressure and isolation from the international community.”

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