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Iran downplays impacts of new US sanctions on oil industry

A set of new US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector was shrugged off by officials in Tehran, who have been scrambling to keep the lifeline industry up and running in the face of US pressure.
Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh speaks during the 24th International Oil, Gas, Refining & Petrochemical Exhibition at Tehran Permanent Fairground in Tehran on May 01, 2019. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran’s Petroleum Minister Bijan Zanganeh downplayed fresh US sanctions that hit his country’s oil industry, saying the new measures were Washington’s “passive reaction” to its failure to zero out Iranian crude exports. Zanganeh, who was himself included in a list of newly blacklisted Iranian officials, promised that the “oil industry will not be hamstrung.”

On Tuesday, the US Treasury Department announced the sanctions on the “key actors” in Iran’s oil sector over their links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a military organization already designated as a terrorist entity by the US government. The treasury accused a series of state oil companies and individuals of involvement in the IRGC’s “destabilizing activities.”

The Iranian oil minister’s view toward the new sanctions was echoed in a tweet by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who advised the US government to do away with its “addiction” to sanctions. To advance his argument, Zarif cited national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who “admitted" that Washington has “out-sanctioned its ability to pressure Iran.”

Similarly, Iranian media outlets across the political spectrum were unanimously dismissive of the new measures. “The sanctions are at the final station,” wrote pro-Reform daily Aftab-e-Yazd, arguing that President Donald Trump failed to gain what he had initially sought in his “maximum pressure” policy. Other papers particularly highlighted O’Brien’s remarks as a sign that Iran’s resilience had worked to make the pressure policy “inefficient.”

Using the argument of alleged connections between the Iranian oil entities and support for terrorism, the US Treasury seemed to have designed the new sanctions in a way to make them as irrevocable as possible for any Democratic administration and are, therefore, largely viewed as the Trump administration’s last-minute push to deal long-term blows on the Islamic Republic.

Trump has told his supporters that Iran will be the first government to reach out to him following his possible reelection on Nov. 3. Iranian officials, however, have expressed disinterest toward who wins the US polls, asserting repeatedly that any talks with the United States will be conditioned upon its return to the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration pulled out from in 2018.

With Iran-US hostility at its height, the Iranian public widely expects that a victory by Democratic candidate Joe Biden could open up some path to rapprochement. There is still also speculation among Iranian political circles that even a Trump victory is not necessarily the end of the world. In that case, Russia is likely to mediate some level of de-escalation between Tehran and Washington.

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