Trump removes sanctions waivers on countries buying oil from Iran

The Trump administration will not renew waivers that allowed eight foreign governments to buy Iranian oil without getting sanctioned, it announced Monday.

“President Donald J. Trump has decided not to reissue Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs) when they expire in early May,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDemocrats release two new transcripts ahead of next public impeachment hearings McConnell urges Trump to voice support for Hong Kong protesters Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran MORE a short time later also made the announcement from the State Department’s press briefing room. 

“We’re going to zero across the board,” Pompeo said. “With the announcement today we have made clear our seriousness of purposes. We are going to zero. How long we remain there at zero depends solely on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s senior leaders.”

In doing so, Pompeo, an Iran hard-liner, bowed to pressure from others inside and outside the administration who wanted to squeeze Iran even harder despite concerns about causing a spike in oil prices.

Sanctions on Iranian oil purchases were reimposed in November as part of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

The 2015 accord between the United States, Iran, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China gave Tehran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Amid concerns over roiling the international oil market, the Trump administration in November granted sanctions waivers to eight governments: China, India, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Greece, South Korea and Taiwan.

The waivers are due for renewal May 2.

Three of the places — Italy, Greece and Taiwan — have already stopped importing Iranian oil and so did not need their waivers renewed.

But the others have not. It is unclear whether China, India, Japan, Turkey and South Korea will immediately be sanctioned May 3 if they do not stop importing Iranian oil by then, with officials sidestepping the question Monday. 

Pompeo said the United States has been in “constant contact” with allies and partners to help them transition away from Iranian oil.

Oil prices spiked Sunday after reports of the Trump administration’s decision emerged and stayed high Monday. Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, rose to as high as $74.31 per barrel Monday, a 3 percent increase and the highest price since November.

Francis Fannon, assistant secretary of State for energy resources, brushed off the increase, saying, “There’s lots of reasons for what affects oil markets.”

In order to prevent disruption to the oil markets, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed to take unspecified action, according to the White House statement.

“The United States, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, three of the world’s great energy producers, along with our friends and allies, are committed to ensuring that global oil markets remain adequately supplied,” the statement said. “We have agreed to take timely action to assure that global demand is met as all Iranian oil is removed from the market.”

Pompeo said the Saudis and Emiratis have assured “they will ensure an appropriate supply for the markets,” but said he’d “leave others” to discuss what specifically the two countries have agreed to.

Trump also tweeted that Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC “will more than make up” for Iranian oil.

In his tweet, Trump also revived criticism of former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryPompeo announces Israeli settlements do not violate international law Deval Patrick's 2020 entry raises stakes in New Hampshire Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide MORE, who has said he has met with Iran’s foreign minister since leaving office. 

“Iran is being given VERY BAD advice by @JohnKerry and people who helped him lead the U.S. into the very bad Iran Nuclear Deal. Big violation of Logan Act?” Trump tweeted, referring to the law that prohibits private citizens from unauthorized negotiations with foreign governments.

Kerry has said there is nothing unusual about a secretary of State keeping in touch with his former counterparts.

Pompeo had reportedly been arguing against other Iran hard-liners, including national security adviser John Bolton, for extending the waivers.

The debate spilled out into the open at a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, during which Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran Cruz, Graham and Cheney call on Trump to end all nuclear waivers for Iran Pompeo: US ending sanctions waiver for site where Iran resumed uranium enrichment MORE (R-Texas) pressed Pompeo on the waivers.

“I think maximum pressure should mean maximum pressure,” Cruz told Pompeo.

Cruz applauded Monday’s announcement as an “important step in finally ending all American implementation.” 

“This decision will deprive the Ayatollahs of billions of dollars that they would have spent undermining the security of the United States and our allies, building up Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and financing global terrorism,” Cruz said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed the Iran deal, similarly praised the decision as being “of great importance for increasing pressure on the Iranian terrorist regime.”

“We stand with the United States’ determination against Iranian aggression and this is the right way to stop it,” he tweeted in Hebrew.

China, meanwhile, denounced the decision, saying it opposes “unilateral” sanctions and "long-arm jurisdictions imposed” by the United States.

“Our cooperation with Iran is open, transparent, lawful and legitimate, thus it should be respected,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “Our government is committed to upholding the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and will play a positive and constructive role in upholding the stability of global energy market.”

Updated at 10:06 a.m.