The US administration’s special envoy for Iran says the United States will increase pressure on China to stop buying Iranian oil, as Washington seeks to enforce sanctions aimed at curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Robert Malley told Bloomberg Television on January 23 that China is “the main destination of illicit exports by Iran” and talks to dissuade Beijing from such purchases will be “intensified.”
The US re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 2018 after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, under which the Islamic Republic had curbed its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. In response to the US move, Iran lifted all limits on its production of enriched uranium.
Despite the US sanctions, Iranian shipments of crude oil and refined products have surged in recent months, with much of the oil believed to be heading to China, the world’s second-largest economy.
According to shipping analytics firm Vortexa, China's December imports of Iranian oil hit 1.2 million barrels per day, up 130 percent from a year earlier.
“No, we’re not fine with it,” Malley said of Iran’s increasing oil exports, adding that the United States will do “everything in our power” to make sure that US sanctions are enforced.
The US envoy said that talks with Tehran on reviving the 2015 nuclear accord have largely broken down.
He said Washington was focusing on stopping Iran from using violence against anti-government protesters at home and on preventing the Islamic Republic from supporting Russian military operations in Ukraine.
“Our focus has shifted to Iran killing its own citizens and what we can do to counter that, and to Iran assisting in Russia’s killing of Ukrainian citizens and what we can do to deter and stop that,” Malley said.
“The nuclear deal has not been on our agenda.”
Malley’s comments came as the United States, Britain, and the European Union issued new sanctions on dozens of Iranian individuals and entities for the Islamic Republic’s deadly crackdown on dissent.
The US Treasury said on January 23 that a further 10 people had been added to its sanctions list, all of whom are linked to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), or officials around it.
The Iranian security forces have unleashed a bloody crackdown on the unrest that has swept the country since mid-September, killing more than 500 people and detaining over 18,000. At least four people have been executed so far in relation to the protests.
The United States and its allies have also imposed sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities for their involvement in the supply of drones to Russia’s military engaged in Ukraine.