Iran looking for ways to export oil despite US sanctions
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Iran looking for ways to export oil despite US sanctions

Tehran sets up committee to seek potential buyers, as Trump calls on Riyadh to boost production to offset lost Iranian exports, stem price hikes

Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, May 8, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, May 8, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iranian leaders held a meeting on Saturday to examine countermeasures to US economic sanctions, including ways to keep exporting oil, according to a report in the Iranian news agency IRNA.

In the meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the heads of parliament and the judiciary, “various scenarios of threats to the Iranian economy by the US government were examined and appropriate measures were taken to prepare for any probable US sanctions, and to prevent their negative impact,” Reuters quoted IRNA as reporting.

Among the issues discussed were “suggestions to achieve self-sufficiency… in producing petroleum, and to prevent the vulnerability in the field of energy carriers,” the news agency wrote on its English-language site.

The Iranian government also set up a committee to look for potential oil buyers after US sanctions come into effect.

“Due to the possibility of US sanctions against Iran, the committee will study the competence of buyers and how to obtain proceeds from the sale of oil, safe sale alternatives which are consistent with international law and do not lead to corruption and profiteering,” Fereydoun Hassanvand, head of the parliament’s energy committee, was quoted as saying by IRNA, Reuters reported.

This photo taken on March 12, 2017, shows an Iranian laborer walking the platform of the oil facility in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENAR)

Iran has faced mounting economic woes since US President Donald Trump announced in May that Washington was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, negotiated under his predecessor president Barack Obama. The accord imposed controls on Tehran’s nuclear program, in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.

The country has also witnessed growing protests in recent months. On Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of being behind the unrest.

In a series of tweets, Khamenei said the US formed a coalition with other “disgraceful states” in the region as it is unable to defeat Iran on its own. The Iranian leader didn’t name any specific nations in this so-called coalition, but alleged it was imposing economic pressure on Iran to “separate the nation from the system.”

“If the US was able to overpower the Islamic system, it would not have needed to form a coalition with notorious countries of the region to create chaos, unrest, and insecurity in Iran,” he said.

“Six previous US presidents made efforts against Iran but failed at their vicious goals,” the Iranian leader tweeted. “Today, after losing hope in other methods, the enemy’s plot is to create a rift between establishment and nation; that’s foolish: they don’t understand that establishment entirely represents nation.”

Over the past six months, Iran’s currency has lost almost 50 percent of its value, with the US dollar now buying around 85,000 rials on the open market.

Iranians have been hit by rising prices, and record levels of unemployment have left a third of under-30s out of work.

Slogans chanted by crowds of Iranians in the recent economic protests, which have leaked out to the world via social media, show that many blame their own government’s foreign policies for the downturn.

A group of protesters chant slogans at the main gate of old Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2018. (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP)

The protests have seen unusual scenes of demonstrators chanting against continued Iranian spending of billions of dollars on regional proxy wars and support for terrorist groups, which many say has meant less investment in the struggling economy at home.

In recent years, Iran has provided financial aid to Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and Shiite militias in Iraq. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Tehran has poured a reported $6 billion into propping up President Bashar Assad’s government.

Earlier this week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to calm the growing discontent by assuring Iranians they would be able to withstand the new US sanctions. He blamed the spontaneous demonstrations that erupted across the country earlier that week on “foreign media propaganda,” and accused the US of waging “an economic war” against Tehran.

At the end of last year, similar economic protests roiled Iran and spread to some 75 cities and towns, becoming the largest demonstrations in the country since its 2009 disputed presidential election. The protests in late December and early January saw at least 25 people killed and nearly 5,000 arrested.

Saudi allies

Also on Saturday, Trump said he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom will increase oil production, “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels” in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets.

Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to increase oil production “to make up the difference…Prices to (sic) high! He has agreed!”

Oil prices have edged higher as the Trump administration has pushed allies to end all purchases of oil from Iran, following the US pulling out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. Oil prices also have risen with the ongoing unrest in Venezuela, as well as with fighting in Libya over control of that country’s oil infrastructure.

In this June 29, 2018 photo, President Donald Trump gestures while speaking, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Saudi Arabia currently produces some 10 million barrels of crude oil a day. Its record is 10.72 million barrels a day. Trump’s tweet offered no timeframe for the additional 2 million barrels — whether that meant per day or per month.

However, Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser told journalists in India on Monday that the state oil company has spare capacity of 2 million barrels of oil a day. That was after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom would honor the OPEC decision to stick to a 1-million-barrel increase.

“Saudi Arabia obviously can deliver as much as the market would need, but we’re going to be respectful of the 1-million-barrel cap — and at the same time be respectful of allocating some of that to countries that deliver it,” al-Falih said then.

The Trump administration has been counting on Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members to supply enough oil to offset the lost Iranian exports and prevent oil prices from rising sharply.

The administration has threatened close allies such as South Korea with sanctions if they don’t cut off Iranian imports by early November. South Korea accounted for 14 percent of Iran’s oil exports last year, according to the US Energy Department.

China is the largest importer of Iranian oil at 24 percent, followed by India at 18 percent. Turkey stood at 9 percent and Italy at 7 percent.

The State Department has said it expects the “vast majority” of countries will comply with the US request.

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