U.S. exempts nations from Iran oil sanctions


Iran’s foreign minister says he sent a message on Twitter saying “Happy Rosh Hashana,” in what is likely a small diplomatic step toward easing the hostilities between his nation and Israel.

Mohammad Javad Zarif told tasnimnews.com he sent the message because Iran has a small Jewish community. But the message comes as Israel and Iran view each other with suspicion and contempt over Iran’s nuclear program and former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s denials that the Holocaust took place.

A subsequent Zarif’s tweet read: “Iran never denied it. The man who perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” It came after an account attributed to Christine Pelosi, daughter of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, replied to Zarif’s Rosh Hashana tweet with: “The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.”

— Associated Press

The U.S. said Friday it was granting six-month sanctions exemptions to 10 European countries so they can restart imports of Iranian crude oil after a year’s hiatus.

Japan received a similar exemption after the U.S. said the Asian nation had significantly reduced its oil imports from Iran — the main condition for such waivers.

American sanctions are designed to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program, which Washington suspects is aimed at producing weapons.

The European Union and the U.S. are moving closer to resuming international talks with Iran on its nuclear program, buoyed by recent changes in Tehran’s leadership, officials said Friday.

President Barack Obama said the election of centrist Hasan Rouhani as Iran’s president in June offers “the opportunity to demonstrate in acts and not just words that … they do not pursue nuclear weapons.”

French President Francois Hollande, who was in St. Petersburg with Obama for the Group of 20 summit, said, “We want to believe in the statements of the new president” who has sounded more conciliatory than his predecessor.

While it is assumed that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the last word on the nuclear issue, Rouhani was elected on the promise of getting rid of the international sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy.

The most ambitious U.S. tactic has involved pressuring countries around the world to cut commercial ties with Iran or face a series of restrictions on what type of business they can conduct in the United States, the world’s largest market. But the Obama administration has been granting exemptions to a number of mostly Asian countries that rely on Iranian oil on condition that they significantly reduce their imports over time.

The entire European Union has not purchased Iranian oil since July 1, 2012, the State Department said in a statement. Because of that reduction, the U.S. said 10 EU countries had qualified for six-month sanctions exemptions: Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Britain.

The State Department said a total of 20 countries have continued to significantly reduce their crude oil purchases from Iran. China remains Iran’s top trading partner and its No. 1 client for oil exports, with Japan, India and South Korea among other top purchasers.

A senior U.S. official said last week that sanctions have reduced Iranian oil exports by 58 percent since late 2011.

The news of the European exemptions came as successful legal challenges to European sanctions on Iran mounted.

Just hours before the exemptions notice came out, an EU court said it would throw out penalties imposed on eight Iranian banks and businesses for their alleged ties to Iran’s nuclear program because there wasn’t sufficient evidence to justify the sanctions imposed by the bloc.

The U.S. was disappointed with the ruling.

“The evidence linking these banks to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities is clear and strong, and no financial institution anywhere should allow these Iranian banks to transact with them,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

In other developments, the Treasury Department said earlier Friday that it was expanding sanctions to target a network allegedly helping the government evade measures aimed at curbing oil exports.

The U.S. says the new sanctions target the network of Seyed Seyyedi, an Iranian businessman and director of Sima General Trading, as well as a network of companies based in the United Arab Emirates that Seyyedi allegedly controls. They also target National Iranian Oil Company representatives in Europe.