On Thursday, the US placed penalties on Chinese and Emirati front companies, as well as a network of Iranian corporations that assist in the export of Iran’s petrochemicals, perhaps increasing pressure on Tehran to resurrect the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Two front businesses situated in Hong Kong, three in Iran, and four in the United Arab Emirates, as well as Chinese citizen Jinfeng Gao and Indian national Mohammed Shaheed Ruknooddin Bhore, have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department.
In a statement, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson stated, “The United States is pursuing the road of serious diplomacy to seek a reciprocal return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” referring to the 2015 nuclear accord.
Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for respite from sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, which had suffocated Iran’s oil-dependent economy.
In 2018, then-US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and reinstated US sanctions, prompting Iran to begin breaking nuclear limitations a year later. So far, efforts to resurrect the deal have failed.
“In the absence of an agreement, we will continue to exercise our sanctions authorities to restrict Iranian oil, petroleum products, and petrochemical exports,” Nelson warned.
The latest restrictions were blasted as ineffectual by Iran’s deputy foreign minister for economic diplomacy in Tehran.
“Our petrochemical industry and its products have been subject to sanctions for a long time, but our sales have persisted through numerous channels and will continue to do so,” Mehdi Safari said on Iranian state television.
The sanctions, according to Henry Rome, deputy head of research at the Eurasia Group, may be aimed at increasing pressure on Iran while also stifling domestic critics who claim that US President Joe Biden has failed to rein in Iran’s nuclear development.
“Washington is likely aiming to increase the costs for Iran of a continued no-deal scenario while also deflecting domestic and international criticism that it is allowing its Iran policy to drift,” Rome said, adding that a single sanction action would be unlikely to change Iran’s or China’s minds without a broader strategy.
“In fact, given the situation of the oil market and global inflationary pressures, Tehran may conclude that a concerted (US) drive to bring Iranian energy exports back to Trump-era levels is unlikely in the near future,” Rome wrote.
In March, the nuclear pact appeared to be on the verge of being resurrected, but talks broke down over whether the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which controls armed and intelligence forces that Washington accuses of waging a global terrorist campaign, would be removed from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.
Keen Well International Ltd. and Teamford Enterprises Ltd. are based in Hong Kong, and Fanavaran Petrochemical Company, Kharg Petrochemical Company Ltd., and Marun Petrochemical Company are based in Iran, according to the Treasury Department.
The two Hong Kong-based enterprises, as well as Gao, could not be reached for comment right away.
Kharg was unavailable for comment late Thursday, the Iranian weekend, while Fanavaran and Marun did not respond to requests for comment.
Future Gate Fuel and Petrochemical Trading L.L.C., GX Shipping FZE, Sky Zone Trading FZE, and Youchem General Trading FZE are the four UAE-based companies listed by the Treasury.
All of the firms’ property and interests in property that come under US jurisdiction are frozen, and people who engage with them may face sanctions or penalties in some cases.