US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at press conference at the US Department of State in Washington DC, October 23, 2018. File photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq is not among the eight nations named by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, that are exempt from oil sanctions on Iran taking effect from Monday, but reports indicate Baghdad could enjoy waivers elsewhere.
Pompeo named those given a waiver on purchasing oil from the Islamic republic as: China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey – all big customers of Iranian oil.
Iran’s neighbor Iraq was not included in the list of exemptions, raising questions about its future stability. Had Iraq been exempt, Iran may have tried to skirt sanctions by mixing its crude with its neighbor’s output, analysts told AFP.
According to Rudaw’s reporter in Washington DC, a top US official told journalists in a phone conference that Iraq will be granted a waiver, but it is not yet clear what that waiver includes. On Friday, Reuters reported that Iraq could have an exemption on gas and food imports.
Brian Hook, Director of State Department Policy Planning, told journalists: “Iraq has been granted an exemption. Iraq has been working with us on reducing Iran’s influence and opening Kirkuk, which would be another 200,000 barrels of oil.”
This oil, originally trucked from Kirkuk to Iran for export from Iranian ports, could now be exported via the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) controlled pipeline via Turkey, easing sanctions pressure on international oil markets.
“Our objective is to starve the Iranian regime of the funds it uses to fund violent activity throughout the Middle East and around the world. Our ultimate goal is to encourage them to abandon their revolutionary course,” Pompeo told reporters, unveiling the waivers.
The new sanctions were introduced after the US withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May, claiming it had failed to stop Iran from developing its nuclear program and from interfering in the affairs of the wider region.
The move has been widely criticized by European and other signatories of the JCPOA, who argue Iran has met all of it obligations under the nuclear deal.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani called the sanctions "economic bullying" in a speech on state television Monday. Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, called on member states to hold the US to account.
In response to a question from Rudaw during Monday’s press briefing, Pompeo said US allies in Iraq and Kurdistan would not be harmed by the new sanctions.
“Since the United States entered the JCPOA in 2015, Iran has turned up the heat on those very entities to which you are referring,” said Pompeo.
“So we have a history, we have a data set, we have an historical basis upon which to say that we know that the JCPOA didn’t impede Iran one bit from putting pressure on Kurdistan, pressure on Baghdad, pressure throughout the region.
“We are very hopeful that the set of efforts that we are undertaking – we’ve focused here on the financial and economic – but the full range of efforts we are taking to push back against the Islamic Republic of Iran will have the intended effect of reducing Iran’s capacity to be destabilizing and present risk to the Middle East, to Europe and the world,” Pompeo added.
Iraq and the Kurdistan Region share important trade relationships with neighboring Iran. Many Iraqi politicians, who spent time in exile in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein, maintain strong personal, political, and religious sympathies with Tehran.
Pompeo’s waivers only relate to oil, according to one senior Iraqi official who spoke to Rudaw anonymously, adding that Iraq has been granted exemptions on other things.
This is a developing story…
Last updated 11.44 p.m.