U.S. removed almost 2.7 million barrels daily of Iranian oil from market: Pompeo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reacts as he talks to the media after his meeting with Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has removed nearly 2.7 million barrels of Iranian oil from global markets daily as a result of Washington’s decision to reimpose sanctions on all purchases of Iran’s crude, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.

In an interview with MSNBC, Pompeo said the U.S. government was confident it could continue with its strategy.

The United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. In May, Washington ended sanction waivers given to importers of Iranian oil, aiming to cut Tehran’s exports to zero.

Iran exported about 100,000 bpd of crude in July, according to an industry source who tracks such flows and data from Refinitiv Eikon. If condensate, a light oil, is included, shipments were about 120,000 bpd a day.

“We have managed to take almost 2.7 million barrels of crude oil off of the market, denying Iran the wealth to create their terror campaign around the world, and we have managed to keep the oil markets fully supplied,” Pompeo said.

“I am confident we can continue to do that,” he added.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Russia and other producers have been cutting 1.2 million bpd since Jan. 1 to reduce global supply. OPEC in July renewed the pact until March 2020 to avoid a build-up of inventories as worldwide demand is seen weakening.

Despite OPEC’s actions along with U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela, Brent crude international oil prices <LCOc1> have been relatively weak, falling on Tuesday to $59 a barrel from a 2019 high of $75, pressured by concerns about slowing demand.

The exact level of Iranian exports has become harder to assess since U.S. sanctions returned in November, meaning estimates fall into a range rather than a definitive figure.

 

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao)

Iran says it arrests CIA spies, Gulf tensions simmer

FILE PHOTO - The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

By Michael Georgy

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran announced on Monday it had captured 17 spies working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and sentenced some of them to death, deepening a crisis between the Islamic Republic and the West.

Iranian state television published images that it said showed the CIA officers who had been in touch with the suspected spies.

In a statement read on state television, the Ministry of Intelligence said 17 spies had been arrested in the 12 months to March 2019. Some have been sentenced to death, according to another report.

Such announcements are not unusual in Iran, and are often made for domestic consumption. But the timing suggests Tehran could harden its position in a standoff with Western powers which has raised fears of a direct military confrontation.

In recent weeks the United States has blamed Iran for attacks on shipping near the Strait of Hormuz, the global oil trade’s most important waterway, accusations Iran has denied.

The United States and Iran have downed drones operated by the other side and on Friday, Iran captured a British-registered tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran had previously warned it would respond to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar on July 4.

There was no immediate comment on the Iranian allegations by the CIA or U.S. officials.

Iran announced in June that it had broken up an alleged CIA spy ring but it was unclear whether Monday’s announcement was linked to the same case.

BRITAIN’S NEXT MOVE

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office has said she would chair a meeting of Britain’s COBR emergency response committee early on Monday to discuss the tanker crisis and the government was expected to announce its next steps in parliament.

As Britain weighed its next move a recording emerged showing the Iranian military defied a British warship when it boarded and seized the Stena Impero, underscoring the challenges Britain faces responding.

Experts on the region say there are few obvious steps London can take at a time when the United States has already imposed the maximum possible economic sanctions, banning all Iranian oil exports worldwide.

Washington imposed the sanctions after President Donald Trump pulled out of a deal signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, which had provided Iran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

European countries including Britain have been caught in the middle. They disagreed with the U.S. decision to quit the nuclear deal but have so far failed to offer Iran another way to receive the deal’s promised economic benefits.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that Japan wants to make every effort to reduce tension between the United States and Iran before responding to an expected U.S. request to send its navy to safeguard strategic waters off Iran.

Japanese media have said Washington’s proposal to boost surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes off Iran and Yemen could be on the agenda during a visit to Tokyo this week by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton.

“We have a long tradition of friendship with Iran and I’ve met with its president any number of times, as well as other leaders,” Abe told a news conference after his coalition’s victory in a Sunday election for parliament’s upper house.

“Before we make any decisions on what to do, Japan would like to make every effort to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States.”

The United States is struggling to win its allies&rsquo; support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes because of fears it will increase tension with Iran, six sources familiar with the matter said.

(Reporting by Gulf bureau and Elaine Lies and Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jon Boyle)

Europeans urge Iran to abide by nuclear pact; Israel says preparing military

FILE PHOTO - French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media ahead of a European Union leaders summit that aims to select candidates for top EU institution jobs, in Brussels, Belgium June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

By John Irish and Parisa Hafezi

PARIS/DUBAI (Reuters) – European signatories to a nuclear pact with Iran said on Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” by Tehran’s apparent breach of the 2015 deal, as Israel said it was preparing for possible involvement in any confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Iran announced this week it has amassed more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the nuclear pact, a move that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to say Iran was “playing with fire”.

“We regret this decision by Iran, which calls into question an essential instrument of nuclear non-proliferation,” the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain said in a joint statement with the EU’s High Representative on Iran. “We urge Iran to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal,” they said.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased since Trump pulled Washington out of the pact last year and moved to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. Washington also blames Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, something Tehran denies.

The European signatories to the accord have sought to pull back the two longstanding foes from direct confrontation, fearing a mistake could lead to war accidentally.

Israel has encouraged the Trump administration to press ahead with sanctions against its arch-foe Iran, predicting that Tehran will eventually renegotiate a more limiting nuclear deal.

But Foreign Minister Israel Katz told an international security forum that Iran might accidentally stumble out of what he termed the “gray zone” of contained confrontation.

“It should be taken into account that mistaken calculations by the (Iranian) regime … are liable to bring about a shift from the ‘gray zone’ to the ‘red zone’ – that is, a military conflagration,” he said in a speech to the Herzliya Conference.

“We must be prepared for this, and thus the State of Israel continues to devote itself to building up its military might for the event that it will have to respond to escalation scenarios.”

Israel has long threatened to take preemptive military action to deny Iran the means of making nuclear weapons. Tehran says it has no such designs. One of its senior lawmakers warned on Monday that Israel would be destroyed within “only half an hour” should the United States attack Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear accord by amassing more low-enriched uranium, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond following the U.S. pullout.

By exceeding the limit, Tehran could prompt the return of all international sanctions on Iran but one European diplomat, asked if Europe would trigger a dispute resolution mechanism that is part of the accord, said:

“Not for now. We want to defuse the crisis.”

A second diplomat said Britain, France and Germany would focus on bringing Iran back into compliance and that they wanted to gain more time for dialogue.

“In the immediate term, Iran must return to its obligations. There is room for dialogue,” a French diplomatic source added.

China, like France a signatory to the deal, said it regretted Iran’s move but urged all parties to exercise restraint and said the U.S. policy of increasing pressure on Iran was the “root cause of the current tensions”.

IRANIAN DEMANDS

The nuclear deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear work. It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels before Washington pulled out of the deal and restored sanctions.

Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.

Iran says it will breach the deal’s nuclear curbs one by one until it is able to sell that amount of oil, saying this is the least it should be able to expect from an accord that offered economic gains in exchange for nuclear restrictions.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday that the Islamic Republic’s enriched uranium stockpile had passed the 300kg (661 lb) limit allowed under the deal.

“We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the deal by the abbreviation of its formal title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused Trump of trying to bully Tehran with his remark about playing with fire, and said such language would only made Iran stronger.

Zarif reacted with exasperation to a White House accusation that Tehran had long violated the terms of the deal.

“Seriously?” he said in a one-word message on Twitter, after White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “there is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”

Her comment contrasted with CIA Director Gina Haspel&rsquo’s testimony in January to the Senate Intelligence Committee that “at the moment, technically, they are in compliance.”

(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Writing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell; Editing by Jon Boyle and Grant McCool)

U.S. ratchets up pressure on Iran with resumption of sanctions

FILE PHOTO: Iranian rials, U.S. dollars and Iraqi dinars are seen at a currency exchange shopÊin Basra, Iraq November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States reimposes oil and financial sanctions against Iran on Monday, significantly turning up the pressure on Tehran in order to curb its missile and nuclear programs and counter its growing military and political influence in the Middle East.

The move will restore U.S. sanctions that were lifted under a 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the administration of President Barack Obama, and add 300 new designations in Iran’s oil, shipping, insurance and banking sectors.

President Donald Trump announced in May that his administration was withdrawing from what he called the “worst ever” agreement negotiated by the United States. Other parties to the deal, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, have said they will not leave.

Details of the sanctions will be released at a news conference scheduled for 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT) with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

China, India, South Korea, Japan and Turkey – all top importers of Iranian oil – are among eight countries expected to be given temporary exemptions from the sanctions to ensure crude oil prices are not destabilized.

The countries will deposit Iran’s revenue in an escrow account, U.S. officials have said.

Washington has said it will ensure a well-supplied global oil market, with help from ally Saudi Arabia, as Iran oil is cut back. Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $72.53 per barrel on Monday.

The reimposition of the sanctions comes as the United States is focused on U.S. congressional and gubernatorial elections on Tuesday. Campaigning in Chattanooga, Tennessee, late on Sunday, Trump said his “maximum pressure” policy against Iran was working.

“Iran is a much different country than it was when I took office,” said Trump, adding: “They wanted to take over the whole Middle East. Right now they just want to survive.”

Earlier, thousands of Iranians chanted “Death to America” at a rally to mark the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy during the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that Iran should implement policies to safeguard its macroeconomic stability in the face of sanctions.

Senior Iranian officials have dismissed concerns about the impact to its economy.

“America will not be able to carry out any measure against our great and brave nation … We have the knowledge and the capability to manage the country’s economic affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told state TV on Friday.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Rouhani warns U.S. over preventing Iran from exporting oil: ISNA

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday cautioned the United States about pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, saying preventing Iran from exporting oil would be “very dangerous”, but he did not rule out talks between the two countries.

“Imposing sanctions on Iran to prevent us from selling our oil will be very dangerous … If (U.S. President Donald) Trump wants to talk to Iran, then he first should return to the (2015) nuclear deal first,” the ISNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying in a meeting with senior editors of foreign media in New York.

Rouhani is in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly.

In May, Trump pulled out of the international nuclear deal with Iran and announced sanctions against the OPEC member. Washington is pushing allies to cut imports of Iranian oil to zero and will impose a new round of sanctions on Iranian oil sales in November.

Under the accord, most international sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2016 in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Grant McCool)

Iran vows to sell as much oil as it can despite U.S. sanctions

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri speaks during a news conference in Najaf, south of Baghdad, February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian vice president Eshaq Jahangiri acknowledged on Tuesday that U.S. sanctions would hurt the economy but promised to “sell as much oil as we can” and protect its banking system.

Jahangiri said Washington was trying to stop Iran’s petrochemical, steel and copper exports, and to disrupt its ports and shipping services. “America seeks to reduce Iran’s oil sales, our vital source of income, to zero,” he said, according to Fars news agency.

President Donald Trump said in May he would pull the United States out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose U.S. sanctions. Washington later told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face financial consequences.

Jahangiri said it would be a mistake to think the U.S. “economic war” against Iran will have no impact, but added: “We will make Americans understand this year that they cannot stop Iranian oil sales.”

The U.S. ambassador to Berlin called on the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to block an Iranian attempt to withdraw large sums of cash from bank accounts in Germany.

Iran’s foreign ministry and the central bank have taken measures to facilitate banking operations despite the U.S. sanctions, Jahangiri said without elaborating.

The Iranian oil ministry said last week that it exported 2.2 million barrels per day of crude oil in June. The figure is not significantly lower than exports of 2.4 million bpd in April and in May.

ECONOMIC WAR

European powers still support the 2015 deal, under which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear development in exchange for international sanctions relief. They say they will do more to encourage their businesses to remain engaged with Iran, though a number of firms have already said they plan to pull out.

Foreign ministers from the five remaining signatory countries to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — offered a package of economic measures to Iran on Friday but Tehran said they did not go far enough.

“We think the Europeans will act in a way to meet the Iranian demands, but we should wait and see,” Jahangiri said.

The pressure on Iran came as Washington had launched an “economic war with China and even its allies”, he said, referring to trade tensions between the United States and many of its main trading partners.

Jahangiri also accused Washington of trying to use the economic pressure to provoke street protests in Iran.

A wave of anti-government demonstrations against economic hardship and alleged corruption engulfed cities across the country in late December and early January.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by John Stonestreet, Andrew Heavens and David Stamp)