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US unveils fresh sanctions on Iranian oil trade network 

The Biden administration designated 15 individuals and entities located in Iran, Vietnam, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian gives a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

The Biden administration on Wednesday issued a new round of sanctions targeting an international network it says facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil and petrochemical products to East Asia. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the State and Treasury departments designated 15 individuals and entities located in Iran, Vietnam, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong for supporting “Iranian energy trade generating millions of dollars’ worth of illicit revenue.”    

The sanctions imposed Wednesday are the administration's latest to target the illicit trade of Iranian oil. Last month, the US blacklisted a network of Iranian petrochemical producers as well as front companies in China and the UAE. 

Why it matters: The new designations come after indirect talks between the United States and Iran ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without progress on reviving the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Negotiations had been stalled since mid-March, mainly over Tehran’s demand that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. 

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley described the latest round of talks as “a wasted occasion” and said Tuesday that the Iranians arrived at the negotiating table with a new set of demands. On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian denied that the Iranian side had sought additional concessions. 

Blinken said Wednesday that the United States has been “sincere and steadfast” in its efforts to return to the nuclear accord, but that Iran has “failed to demonstrate a similar commitment to that path.”  

"Absent a change in course from Iran, we will continue to use our sanctions authorities to target exports of petroleum, petroleum products and petrochemical products from Iran," he said in a statement.

The Donald Trump administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions that have strangled Iran's economy. A restored JCPOA would ease sanctions on Iran, including those imposed on its oil sector, in exchange for curbs on the Iranian nuclear program. 

“This is the definition of a lose-lose dynamic,” Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group said in response to Wednesday’s sanctions. 

“Iran is missing out on billions $ in additional oil revenue and the US is squeezing an oil producer when the market is desperate for more crude to bring the prices down,” Vaez tweeted. 

What else: Also on Wednesday, Iranian state media reported that the IRGC had arrested several foreign nationals, including the deputy British ambassador to Iran Giles Whitaker. A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office told Al-Monitor that “reports of the arrest of a British diplomat in Iran are completely false.”

Tehran is known to be detaining a number of foreigners and dual nationals on dubious espionage charges. Separate from the nuclear agreement, the United States has conducted indirect negotiations with Iran aimed at securing the release of four Americans.

Know more: During Al-Monitor’s "On the Middle East” podcast, the International Crisis Group’s Dina Esfandiary discusses the latest round of indirect talks and how Iran is managing its ties with Russia and China.

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