EXCLUSIVE US contacted China to cut oil imports from Iran, officials say

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WASHINGTON / PARIS, Sept. 28 (Reuters) – The United States has reached out to China diplomatically to reduce its purchases of Iranian crude oil, US and EU officials said on Tuesday, as Washington seeks to persuade Tehran to resume talks on the relaunch of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

The purchases of Iranian oil by Chinese companies are believed to have helped keep the Iranian economy afloat despite US sanctions designed to stifle such sales in order to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program.

“We are aware of the purchases that Chinese companies are making of Iranian oil,” said a senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“We have used our sanctions authorities to respond to the escape of Iranian sanctions, including those doing business with China, and will continue to do so if necessary,” he added.

“However, we have approached this issue diplomatically with the Chinese as part of our dialogue on Iranian policy and believe that in general this is a more effective way to address our concerns,” the official said.

Separately, a European official said it was one of the questions raised by US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman during her visit to China in late July.

The EU official, who also requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of nuclear diplomacy, said China was protecting Iran and suggested that one of the main issues for the West was how much oil China buys from Iran.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the statements by US and EU officials.

Commodity analysis firm Kpler estimates that China’s oil imports from Iran have averaged 553,000 barrels per day through August.

Indirect US-Iran talks on resuming the 2015 deal that began in April were postponed in June two days after the election of hardline Ebrahim Raisi as Iranian president, replacing Hassan Rouhani whose l administration had negotiated the agreement.

As part of the deal, Iran has agreed to limit its uranium enrichment program, which is a possible route to developing fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in exchange for the relaxation of state economic sanctions. United, the UN and the European Union. Iran has denied looking for a nuclear bomb.

In 2018, then-US President Donald Trump scrapped the deal and reimposed tough economic sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy, although Tehran continued to illegally sell oil to its customers, including Chinese companies.

After waiting about a year, Iran responded to Trump’s repeal of the deal by starting to carry out some of the nuclear activities it had agreed to limit under the pact, officially called the Comprehensive Plan of Action. common (JCPOA).

Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has said he prioritizes “diplomacy” with Iran, but if negotiations fail, he would be prepared to look to other unspecified options.

A French presidential official told reporters on Tuesday that Iran must resume the Vienna talks on the United States and Iran by resuming respect for the agreement in order to avoid a diplomatic escalation that could jeopardize the negotiations. . Read more

“We must, in this phase, remain in close and closely united contact with all members of the JCPOA, including the Russians and the Chinese,” said the French official.

“In particular, we expect the Chinese to express themselves and act in a more determined manner. We must exert pressure, which is essential, on Iran,” added the French official.

Iran’s foreign minister said as late as Friday that he would resume talks on resuming compliance with the nuclear deal “very soon”, but gave no specific date. Read more

It is not clear to what extent China can be receptive to any American diplomatic opening on Iran.

US-China-US relations have fallen to their worst state in decades this year, with little progress on issues ranging from human rights to transparency on the origins of COVID-19.

In a September 24 briefing, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry put the blame on the United States rather than Iran.

“As the one who started the new round of tensions in the Iranian nuclear situation, the United States should correct its bad policy of maximum pressure on Iran, lift all illegal sanctions against Iran and measures of jurisdiction. long arm over third parties, and work to resume negotiations and get results at an early date, “the spokesman said according to a ministry transcript.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington and John Irish in Paris; Additional reporting by David Gaffen in New York; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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