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Britain Seeks Ways to Continue Trading with Iran


FILE - Britain's Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, bottom left, and Japanese Minister of Economic Revitalization Toshimitsu Motegi, right, attend a meeting in Tokyo, July 31, 2018.

British officials have been turning to Japan for tips on how to dodge American sanctions on Iran, according to local media.

Britain is already seeking from Washington exemptions from some U.S. sanctions, which are being re-imposed by President Donald Trump because of the U.S. withdrawal earlier this year from a controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. The British are especially keen to maintain banking links with Iran and to import Iranian oil.

FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement after signing it in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, May 8, 2018.
FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement after signing it in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, May 8, 2018.

According to local media, U.K. officials have been asking their Japanese counterparts how they managed in the past to sidestep some aspects of the pre-2015 sanctions regime, which allowed Tokyo to sign oil deals with Iran as well as insurance contracts without incurring U.S. penalties.

Re-imposed U.S. sanctions penalize any foreign companies that deal with Iran by barring them from doing business in America. That threat has already persuaded more than 50 Western firms to shutter their operations in Iran, including French automakers Renault and Peugeot and the French oil giant Total as well as Germany’s Deutsche Bahn railway company and Deutsche Telekom.

Seeking waivers

British ministers have publicly announced that they are hoping to secure waivers from sanctions for oil imports, tanker insurance and banking. There is particular concern, say British officials, about the position of a gas field 240 miles from Aberdeen which is jointly owned by BP and a subsidiary of Iran’s state-controlled oil company.

According to The Times newspaper, British diplomats and Treasury officials have discussed with their Japanese counterparts what options they may have of evading penalties, if British firms continue to trade with Iran. Britain’s Foreign Office hasn’t commented on the specific claims in report. But in a general statement it says: “We are working with European and other partners, to ensure Iran continues to benefit from sanctions relief through legitimate business, for as long as Iran continues to meet its nuclear commitments under the deal.”

Faltering Iranian economy

On Tuesday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani was grilled by the country’s lawmakers, who for the first time in his five-year tenure called him before parliament to answer questions about the country’s faltering economy amid the tightening U.S. sanctions.

They asked him about high unemployment, rising food prices and the collapsing value of the Iranian currency. Rouhani, who overcame the opposition of hardliners in the first place to sign the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers, insisted Iran would overcome the “the anti-Iranian officials in the White House.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a session of the parliament while answering questions of lawmakers, in Tehran, Aug. 28, 2018.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a session of the parliament while answering questions of lawmakers, in Tehran, Aug. 28, 2018.

He added: “We are not afraid of America or the economic problems. We will overcome the troubles.” His answers didn’t reassure lawmakers, who voted to reject most of them. Earlier this month the parliament impeached the economy and labor ministers amid growing anger about the economy.

In order to try to keep open financial channels with Tehran and facilitate Iran's oil exports, the European Union has taken steps to counter renewed U.S. sanctions, including forbidding EU citizens and firms from complying with them.

The European Commission updated a blocking statute on August 7, which bans companies from observing the sanctions — unless expressly authorized by Brussels to do so. It would allow EU firms to recover damages arising from the sanctions. But many companies say they are fearful of losing current or potential business in the U.S.

“Under these conditions it is very difficult,” according to the Director for International Relations at BusinessEurope, a lobby group, Luisa Santos. She says even small and medium-sized businesses which don’t trade with U.S. will face significant challenges because they will need financing from Western banks.

The first round of U.S. nuclear sanctions on Iran officially snapped back into place earlier this month but the more biting sanctions will be re-imposed on November 4 as Washington seeks to pummel the Iranian economy. The first phase U.S. sanctions prohibit any transactions with Iran involving dollars, gold, precious metals, aluminum, steel, commercial passenger aircraft, shipping and Iranian seaports.

Earlier in August, Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, cautioned there would be trade consequences for Britain, which he described as the closest U.S. ally, unless London breaks with the EU and abides by the re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.

FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump waves next to U.S. Ambassador to U.K. Woody Johnson as he leaves the ambassador's residence, in London, July 13, 2018.
FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump waves next to U.S. Ambassador to U.K. Woody Johnson as he leaves the ambassador's residence, in London, July 13, 2018.

The envoy also delivered a clear ultimatum to British businesses, instructing them to stop trading with Iran or face “serious consequences.”

Trump's decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, signed by his predecessor Barack Obama, in which Tehran agreed to nuclear curbs in return for sanctions relief, paved the way for the restoration of unilateral American economic penalties on Iran.

FILE - Group picture taken at the UN building in Vienna after Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal.
FILE - Group picture taken at the UN building in Vienna after Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal.

The U.S. administration blames Iran for fomenting instability in the Middle East and encouraging terrorism. Trump has described the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a "horrible, one sided" agreement.

U.S. officials say Iran has used the money going into the country after the 2015 deal, when sanctions were eased, not to improve the lives of ordinary Iranians but to increase spending on the military and proxy forces in the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and militants in Yemen.

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