The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Iranian oil isn’t needed: U.S. envoy

Hook says plans to cut crude exports to zero still on, doesn’t expect sanctions to backfire

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TEHRAN/PARIS: The United States still aims to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero and does not expect restored oil sanctions against Tehran to have a negative impact on a market that is well-supplied and balanced, a senior U.S. official said Monday.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, was talking to reporters after a visit to India, a major importer of Iranian oil, and talks with officials from France, Britain and Germany before the start of a new round of U.S. sanctions on Nov. 4 targeting Iran’s energy sector and financial transactio­ns.

The three European countries have been trying to save the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and multiple global powers since U.S. President Donald Trump announced in May that the United States would withdraw from the pact.

In a conference call from Luxembourg, where Hook was meeting European officials, he said Iran used oil revenue to support and fund terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, including in the proliferat­ion of ballistic missiles.

The U.S. goal is for countries to cut imports of Iranian oil to zero as quickly as possible, Hook said.

“We are working with countries that are reducing their imports to ensure that this happens,” he said.

Hook declined to answer questions on possible waivers on sanctions for countries that are reducing their imports, or whether the U.S. would target the SWIFT internatio­nal payments messaging system.

But he said Washington was confident that energy markets would remain stable.

“We are seeing a well-supplied and balanced oil market right now.

“We should focus on these fundamenta­ls and not be distracted by the emotional and unbalanced claims coming from Tehran.”

Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organizati­on of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has said its oil exports cannot be halted because of high demand in the market.

“Stopping Iran’s oil export is impractica­l,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told a weekly news conference Monday. “Certainly, America will not achieve its goal … our oil exports will continue.”

Qasemi also said Tehran received a U.S. note confirming its withdrawal from a decades-old treaty affirming friendly relations between the two countries.

Iran pumped 3.45 million barrels per day in September, OPEC said last week, down 150,000 bpd from August. Production dropped below 2.7 million bpd under previous sanctions that were lifted following the 2015 nuclear deal.

Washington, meanwhile, plans to continue coordinati­ng with oil producers and maintainin­g supply from the U.S.

Hook also said European efforts to create a special-purpose vehicle for trade, including oil, with Tehran by November would struggle to gain traction.

“That vehicle sends the wrong message at the wrong time,” he said. “From what we’ve seen this SPV seems to want to create supply but we don’t see much demand for it when you look at well over 100 companies that have already made clear they are leaving.”

Meanwhile, several Iranian reformist newspapers published a rare joint editorial criticizin­g U.S. sanctions against the country and asking “world journalist­s” to defend Iranian human rights.

The editorial was published in both Farsi and English in at least eight state-owned and pro-reform dailies. It said the U.S. has “lied” about the purpose of sanctions, which target the needs of ordinary people and curtail access to medical supplies and equipment.

The joint editorial said that “trade restrictio­ns, blockades, embargoes, freezing of assets and other economic sanctions are incompatib­le with the Charter of the United Nations.”

It called the U.S. pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran “an undiplomat­ic and immoral” policy.

The agreement with world powers had establishe­d a protocol to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

The editorial was seen as part of efforts by Iranian reformists to address internatio­nal public opinion ahead of the implementa­tion of a new round of U.S. sanctions targeting oil in early November.

Hard-liners opposed to rapprochem­ent with the West were always skeptical of the nuclear deal, and have viewed the withdrawal as proof of their longstandi­ng belief that the U.S. cannot be trusted.

Sunday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, tried to downplay the upcoming U.S. sanctions targeting the country’s vital oil and gas sector. –

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