THE Trump administration’s tough new sanctions on Iran have taken effect, but eight major importers of Iranian oil are being spared from immediate penalties.
The sanctions target Iran’s energy, financial and shipping sectors and are aimed at crippling the country’s economy following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.
The measures that came into effect on Monday restore all the sanctions that had been lifted under the accord that gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
But as the administration seeks to cut off Iran’s oil revenue it will allow some of its closest allies and rival China to continue to purchase Iranian oil as long as they work to reduce imports to zero.
Besides China, Greece, India, Italy, Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan get US sanctions waivers for Iran oil imports.
A defiant Iran said it will “proudly bypass” sanctions by the United States that took effect on Monday targeting the Islamic republic’s vital oil and financial sectors.
The measures described by Washington as “the toughest sanctions ever” come six months after US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to abandon the multi-nation nuclear deal with Tehran.
“I announce that we will proudly bypass your illegal, unjust sanctions because it’s against international regulations,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech.
“We are in a situation of economic war, confronting a bullying power. I don’t think that in the history of America, someone has entered the White House who is so against law and international conventions,” he added.
In one of Tehran’s bazaars, there was anxiety over the future.
“The shadow of the sanctions has already affected the economy in a disastrous way, people’s purchasing power has plunged,” said Ehsan Attar in his herbal remedy shop.
“The US is just like a bully, as long as you listen to them they leave you alone, otherwise it will try to suffocate you.”
Mr Trump has made Iran a foreign policy priority since taking office, accusing it of spreading terror and seeking to destabilise the Middle East.
He detested the nuclear pact forged by his predecessor Barack Obama and five other world powers, finally deciding to abandon it in May.
‘ACT ON YOUR COMMITMENTS’
Mr Trump says he wants a new deal that curbs Iran’s missile program and interventions around the Middle East — demands that have been flatly rejected by Tehran.
“Constantly they are sending us messages saying ‘Let’s sit and negotiate.’ Negotiations for what?” said Mr Rouhani.
“First, you respect the negotiations we already concluded, so that there are grounds for the next negotiations.”
Mr Rouhani said four countries had approached him during his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly in September, offering to mediate with the US but he turned them down.
“There is no need for mediation. There is no need for all these messages. Act on your commitments, and we will sit and talk,” he said.
The latest tranche of US sanctions aims to significantly cut Iran’s oil exports — which have already fallen by up to one million barrels a day since May — and cut off its banks from international finance.
Although the US has given temporary exemptions to eight countries — including India, Japan and Turkey — to continue buying oil, it aims to push Iran’s sales to zero.
“Watch what we do. Watch as we’ve already taken more crude oil off the market than any time in previous history,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS on Sunday.
‘US BULLYING IS BACKFIRING’
The other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have vehemently opposed the US move and vowed to keep alive the accord, technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“We will do everything necessary in the interests of preserving and expanding international trade, economic and financial co-operation with Iran despite US sanctions,” said Russia’s foreign ministry.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “US bullying is backfiring, not just because JCPOA is important, but because the world can’t allow Trump & Co. to destroy global order.”
The only support for the US position has come from Iran’s regional rivals, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel, with the latter saying sanctions were “the sea-change the Middle East has been waiting for.”
But Iran’s economy was already suffering major structural problems — including widespread corruption, weak investment and a banking sector laden with toxic assets — before Trump walked out of the deal.
The latest round of US sanctions on Iran’s vital oil industry may have just started on Monday but some Iranians say they have already become a basic fact of life.
“There have been sanctions forever, almost 40 years now, there is nothing new about that,” said Sogand, a retired college lecturer.
“America has power, so it bullies everyone. Not just us — they even bully the Europeans,” she added.
All over Iran, the mood is a mix of gloom and anxiety, defiance and anger. “What we do is none of America’s business,” said Mehdi Mirzaee.
“America has been hitting at us for the last 100 years, but we will never become their servants,” he said.
Others said they felt naive for having dared to hope their country’s international isolation would end with the nuclear deal signed with six world powers, including the US, in 2015.
“When the nuclear deal was signed, we Iranians were very happy. We thought everything would change for the better,” said Fereshteh Safarnezhad, a 43-year-old teacher.
“But unfortunately we were treated dishonourably by both the American and Iranian governments. The Americans never really committed to the deal and the Iranian government did not spend the cash it got from the deal on the people,” she said.
Iranians were not holding their breath for a quick solution to the country’s economic woes.
“The problem is Iran’s economy was sick anyway. Even if sanctions were lifted immediately, it would take years to cure it,” Safarnezhad said.
For others it is a lost cause.
“You can’t keep on trying to fix things with trial and error,” Farzad said. “The government has been trying for the last 40 years and they have failed. They are just not up to the job.
“They should resign and allow someone who can do it to take up the job.”