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Shadow of Trumpism: US imposes new anti-Iran sanctions

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

The US government has imposed new sanctions on individuals and entities which it has accused of helping to deliver and sell Iranian petroleum and petrochemical products to East Asia.

The measures are yet another testimony to the Biden administration's refusal to break with its predecessor's failed policy of "maximum pressure" campaign, despite claiming interest in diplomacy and undoing past wrongs.

In a statement, the US Treasury Department said it targeted a number of companies based in the UAE, stating that they facilitated the delivery and sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products from Iranian companies to East Asia. 

Among those designated was Iran-based Jam Petrochemical Company, which the Treasury accused of exporting petrochemical products worth hundreds of millions of dollars to companies throughout East Asia, many of which the Treasury said were sold to Iran Petrochemical Commercial Company for shipment to China.

The sanctions came a week after a fresh push to bring the US back to compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal and revive the agreement ended in the Qatari capital, with Iran and the European side saying they would keep in touch "about the continuation of the route and the next stage of the talks".

Iranian officials have said the Americans - indirectly involved in the talks - did not have an initiative and any flexibility.

The Treasury's new sanctions showed that those complaints are not unfounded. Washington, meanwhile, indicated that it is following a policy of carrots and sticks, which has proven futile in the past.

"While the United States is committed to achieving an agreement with Iran that seeks a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will continue to use all our authorities to enforce sanctions on the sale of Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals," Brian Nelson, the Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.

Last month, the US similarly imposed sanctions on a number of Chinese and Emirati companies for allegedly helping Iran sell petrochemical products.

Iran's deputy foreign minister for economic diplomacy, however, dismissed those sanctions as ineffective.

"Our petrochemical industry and its products have long been under sanctions, but our sales have continued through various channels and shall continue to do so," Mehdi Safari said.

Petrochemical products are key to Iran’s derive to weather the US sanctions which mainly aim to dry up the Islamic Republic’s oil exports.

Iranian officials say the wide diversity of petrochemical products and huge international demand for them because of their quality and price make the industry unsanctionable.

The US imposed sanctions on Iran's petrochemical industry in June 2019. It banned purchases of Iranian aromatic, olefin, and synthesis gas, and any of their derivatives, including ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene, xylene, ammonia, methanol, and urea.

Despite being under US sanctions, Iran's oil prices shot up earlier this year. During the first three months of 2022, exports rose to 870,000 barrels a day, up 30 percent from an average of 668,000 barrels a day in all of 2021, according to Western analyses, but the real figures can even be higher.

On Monday, a French presidency official said the international community should explore all options to alleviate the crunch that has spiked prices, including talks with producing nations like Iran and Venezuela.

His remarks came after French President Emmanuel  Macron was heard telling US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G7 summit that UAE leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan had told him neither his country nor Saudi Arabia could raise their output.

Higher energy prices are a pain for American consumers and US production alone cannot protect its consumers from rising global oil prices.

Biden is off to the kingdom next month to appeal to the Saudis to pump more oil, but the kingdom's lack of capacity combined with the American campaign to squeeze Russia and keep pressure on Iran is going to cost the West a lot for energy.

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