US hits Iran with new sanctions targeting petrochemicals

Tehran says France’s suggestion of reopening nuclear deal could lead to its collapse

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks during a conference at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House complex, April 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks during a conference at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House complex, April 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Trump administration on Friday hit Iran with new sanctions that target its largest petrochemical company for providing support to the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company and 39 of its subsidiaries and foreign sales agents. It said the company holds 40 percent of Iran’s petrochemical production capacity and is responsible for 50% of the country’s petrochemical exports. It said the sanctions were the result of the company doing billions of dollars of business with the Guard Corps.

The administration designated the corps a “foreign terrorist organization” last month, the first time it has ever done so for a foreign governmental agency. That means the US can impose sanctions on any company or individual that provides a designated entity with material support.

“By targeting this network we intend to deny funding to key elements of Iran’s petrochemical sector that provide support to the IRGC [Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps],” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “This action is a warning that we will continue to target holding groups and companies in the petrochemical sector and elsewhere that provide financial lifelines to the IRGC.”

Friday’s sanctions are part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran and freeze any assets the targeted firms may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. That effort has picked up steam in recent weeks with the re-imposition of penalties aimed at bringing Iran’s lucrative oil export revenue to zero following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Maximum pressure on Iran’s regime continues today,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, adding that US will continue to act to “deny the regime the money it needs to destabilize the Middle East.”

Also Friday, Iran rejected an idea mooted by France of reopening nuclear talks, warning that seeking to broaden an existing landmark treaty could lead to its collapse.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that his goal of “regional peace” would require new negotiations, adding that Paris aimed to rein in Iran’s nuclear and ballistics activities and its regional influence.

Abbas Mousavi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, gives a press conference in the capital Tehran on May 28, 2019. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

But Tehran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi warned Friday that “bringing up issues that are beyond the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] does not help in saving the JCPOA, but will instead cause increased distrust among the remaining parties” to the deal.

European leaders, bitterly angered by Trump’s pullout from the deal in May last year, have struggled to find ways to salvage it in the face of Washington’s reinstatement of tough sanctions.

In a statement on the foreign ministry’s website, Mousavi said European parties to the deal had been “incapable of acting upon their commitments.”

Under such circumstances, he said, making new demands would “only help America in nearing its objective — the collapse of the JCPOA.”

The JCPOA was an agreement between world powers including France and the United States, offering Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Iran had until recently remained in full compliance with the deal, but with the remaining parties struggling to bypass US sanctions, Tehran has reaped few of the promised benefits.

In May, it dropped its adherence to certain limits on enrichment activities under the accord and gave an ultimatum to the remaining parties that it would ditch other commitments unless they delivered on promised sanctions relief.

Iran in a letter to the United Nations made public on Friday, complained that the reimposition of US sanctions violates not just the nuclear deal but also the UN Security Council resolution that enshrined it.

“The United States’ unilateral nuclear as well as economic sanctions in defiance of Security Council resolution 2231 and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have reached an unprecedented level during the past few months,” Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations said in the letter, which was dated May 23.

“The United States shall bear full responsibility for the consequences of those wrongful acts,” Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi. “The international community should uphold its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations and consider and react proportionately to the unlawful conduct of the United States that has endangered international peace and security.”

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