On August 21st, Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the EU must choose between the US and Iran in observing sanctions, which according to him are more effective than expected.
“We expect that Europeans will see, as businesses all over Europe are seeing, that the choice between doing business with Iran or doing business with the United States is very clear to them,” he said.
Reuters cited Bolton while in Israel who said that Trump “wants maximum pressure on Iran, maximum pressure, and that is what is going on.”
Despite the supposed strong effect the US sanctions are having on Iran, Bolton said that Washington is not seeking a regime change. What Washington requires is a massive change in the Iranian government’s behavior. “Regime change in Iran is not American policy but what we want is massive change in the regime’s behaviour,” he said while on his visit to Jerusalem, while also warning that Tehran’s activity in the region remains threatening.
He further commented that despite the effect of the sanctions surpassing expectations, “Iranian activity in the region has continued to be belligerent: what they are doing in Iraq, what they are doing in Syria, what they are doing with Hezbollah in Lebanon, what they are doing in Yemen, what they have threatened to do in the Strait of Hormuz.”
As reported by PressTV, Iranian officials and ordinary citizens say the sanctions are aimed at crippling the country. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the measures have made Washington more isolated than ever, even among its allies. The Iranian economy has been in a sort of crisis, with high unemployment and inflation and the Iranian rial which has lost about half of its value since April. The sanctions imposed on August 6th made matters worse, however the batch that is to come in November targets the Iranian energy and oil export sector are certain to be a serious strike on the Iranian economy.
The sanctions on Iran were reimposed after on August 8th US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iranian Nuclear Deal.
The other parties under the Deal and in particular the EU countries in it vowed to counteract the US sanctions and assist Iran. As a response to the August 6th reimposing of the sanctions on Iran, the EU enforced the so-called Blocking Statute. Its aim is to protect EU companies operating in Iran from the effect of US sanctions. However, European companies like Total, Maersk and others quit Iran for fear of US sanctions. These firms are dependent on the US-dominated international banking system and international financial markets.
To counteract that RT cited German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who wrote in the Handelsblatt business daily. “It is indispensable that we strengthen European autonomy by creating payment channels that are independent of the United States, a European Monetary Fund and an independent SWIFT system,” he said. According to Germany the European Union should set up a system that would allow Brussels to be independent in its financial operations from Washington. Europe must “form a counterweight when the US crosses red lines,” the German foreign minister said.
As reported by the RT, SWIFT is a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions based in Belgium. The system’s management claims SWIFT remains politically neutral and independent. RT also cited reports that claim the US has enough power to block transactions through SWIFT.
RT cited that Danish newspaper Berlingske which in 2012 wrote that US authorities managed to seize money being transferred from a Danish businessman to a German bank for a batch of US-sanctioned Cuban cigars. The transaction was made in US dollars, which allowed Washington to block it.
“Given the circumstances, it is of strategic importance that we tell Washington clearly: we want to work together. But we will not allow you to hurt our interests without consulting us,” Maas further commented.
Press TV reported that French oil and gas major Total confirmed on Monday that it had notified Iranian authorities of its withdrawal from the multi-billion dollar South Pars gas project after failing to obtain a waiver from US sanctions. Despite EU companies leaving the Iranian market in fear of sanctions, Chinese state-owned company CNPC will take the leading seat in the project.
On August 20th, PressTV reported that Chinese buyers of Iranian oil began shifting their cargoes to vessels owned by National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) in order to assist in battling the US sanctions. However, Iran may have problems with repatriation of its money, because the second round of US sanctions will affect the SWIFT global payment system.
The call for an independent payment system comes after on August 20th, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said that “the United States is trying, in a massive psychological warfare and all-out attempt, to create restrictions on Iran’s economic cooperation by sending delegations and forming such groups and contacts with countries.” Qassemi also urged Europe to accelerate its efforts to salvage the agreement.