Pompeo announces sanctions on firms accused of doing business with Iran

US secretary of state says penalties leveled against China, Hong Kong, and UAE-based entities for dealing with Iranian oil and petrochemical sectors

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the III Hemispheric Ministerial Conference of Fight Against Terrorism in Bogota, on January 20, 2020. (Raul ARBOLEDA/AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the III Hemispheric Ministerial Conference of Fight Against Terrorism in Bogota, on January 20, 2020. (Raul ARBOLEDA/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday vowed to maintain pressure on Tehran and announced fresh sanctions against firms based in China, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates that conduct business with Iran.

“Maximum pressure on the Iranian regime will continue until its behavior changes,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter. “Today we imposed sanctions against China, Hong Kong, and UAE-based entities for operating in Iran’s oil and petrochemical sectors. If you facilitate this regime’s activities, you will be sanctioned.”

Tensions have been soaring with Iran since US President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike in Iraq on January 3 that killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani.

In response to the drone strike, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. There were no reported casualties at the time but it has since been revealed that 11 US troops suffered injuries.

The strike exacerbated tensions between the US and Iran, which have been steadily escalating since Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear accord. The agreement, negotiated under the US administration of Barack Obama, had imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Since Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement, the US has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country into an economic crisis that has ignited several waves of sporadic, leaderless protests.

US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday in Jerusalem called for the world to stand up to Iran, drawing a parallel between the Islamic Republic and Nazi Germany during this week’s World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem.

Speaking before Pence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged action against “the tyrants of Tehran,” comparing what he considers the Iranian threat to the one that was posed by the Nazis.

On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to be tough with Iran on its nuclear program, as the Islamic Republic’s president warned that it would hold Europe responsible if the 2015 atomic deal collapses.

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks before the heads of banks, in Tehran, Iran, January 16, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed his country would never seek to acquire nuclear arms, warning European countries not to violate the terms of the nuclear deal, as the United States — and Iran itself — have done.

On Monday Iran insisted that although it has rolled back its commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal, prompting European scrutiny, it still remains party to the agreement.

“Tehran still remains in the deal … the European powers’ claims about Iran violating the deal are unfounded,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a televised weekly news conference, Reuters reported.

“Whether Iran will further decrease its nuclear commitments will depend on other parties and whether Iran’s interests are secured under the deal,” he said.

Britain, France and Germany launched a process last week charging Iran with failing to observe the terms of the 2015 deal curtailing its nuclear program, while Tehran accuses the bloc of inaction over US sanctions.

The EU three, France, Germany and Italy, insisted they remained committed to the agreement, which has already been severely undermined by the US exit from it in 2018 and Washington’s reimposition of unilateral sanctions on key sectors of Iran’s economy.

Since May 2019, Iran has progressively scaled back some commitments under the agreement in response to the US sanctions and Europe’s inability to circumvent them.

It has stressed, however, that they can be reversed if Tehran’s interests are realized.

Iran’s latest and final step in January entailed forgoing the limit on the number of machines used to make uranium more potent.

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