– US exempts China from Iran sanctions (Telegraph, June 29, 2012):
The US gave China a six-month reprieve from Iran financial sanctions last night, avoiding a diplomatic spat with a country whose support it needs to try to quell violence in Syria and rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
With Thursday’s decision to grant exceptions to China, which buys up to a fifth of Iran’s oil exports, and Singapore, which buys Iranian fuel oil, the Obama administration has now spared all 20 of Iran’s major oil buyers from its unilateral sanctions.
The sanctions themselves are designed to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program, which the West believes aims to develop nuclear weapons but which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity and medical isotopes.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said both China and Singapore earned the reprieve by cutting imports of Iranian crude and argued the reductions by all 20 countries showed that Iran was paying a high price for its nuclear program.
“Their cumulative actions are a clear demonstration to Iran’s government that Iran’s continued violation of its international nuclear obligations carries an enormous economic cost,” Mrs Clinton said in a release.
Earlier this month the administration granted exceptions to India and six other economies. Japan and 10 European Union countries got exceptions in March.
The sanctions seek to pressure Iran by choking off its oil revenues, the life blood of the Iranian economy.
Iran’s exports have already fallen about 1 million barrels per day, worth about $630 million a week, on the threat of US and EU sanctions. But the impact on oil markets has been muted by a surge in production from the world’s largest exporter, Saudi Arabia, and signs of economic troubles in Europe and China.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman at China’s embassy in Washington, said his country “will continue working with parties concerned to find a peaceful solution of the issue through dialogue and negotiation”.
Under the law President Barack Obama signed late last year, the administration can cut foreign banks from access to the US financial system if they perform oil transactions with Iran’s central bank. The law also allows Mr Obama to grant 180-day exceptions to any country that has “significantly reduced” purchases of Iranian oil.
The administration has not specified the levels each country must cut, but officials have said Japan had trimmed imports by about 15 to 22 percent.
China’s imports from Iran fell about 25 percent in the first months of the year on an unrelated pricing dispute with Tehran. The imports bounced back in May and are expected to do the same in June and July. With the rebound, the administration risks criticism from sanctions supporters on Capitol Hill.