July 16, 2018, by Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States wants to avoid disrupting global oil markets as it reimposes sanctions against Tehran and in certain cases will consider waivers for countries which need more time to wind down their oil imports from Iran, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
“We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if people can’t do that overnight, we’ll consider exceptions,” Mnuchin told reporters on Friday, clarifying some U.S. officials’ comments that there would be no exemptions. Mnuchin’s comments were embargoed for release on Monday.
Mnuchin was talking to reporters en route from Mexico where he was part of a high-level U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet Mexico’s next president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
The Trump administration is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November when the United States reimposes sanctions against Tehran, after Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal agreed between Iran and six major powers, against the advice of allies in Europe and elsewhere.
Mnuchin said he would meet with counterparts from developed and developing countries on the sidelines of a G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Buenos Aires on July 19-22. U.S. sanctions against Iran are likely to be raised in his talks.
“We’ve said very specifically, there’s no blanket waivers, there’s no grandfathering,” Mnuchin said, “We want to be very careful in the wind-down around the energy markets to make sure that people have the time.”
He added: “The State Department has the ability to issue waivers around significant reductions in the oil markets, that’s something that Treasury and State will be doing.”
Mnuchin said Washington had made clear to allies that it expects them to enforce the sanctions against Iran “but if there are specific situations we’re open to listening.”
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said at the weekend that Washington had rejected a French request for waivers for its companies operating in Iran, according to Le Figaro.
Paris had singled out key areas where it expected either exemptions or extended wind-down periods for French companies, including energy, banking, pharmaceuticals and automotive.
The Trump administration has said there are more than 50 foreign companies that have withdrawn their business from Iran since Trump announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia.
Pompeo, also speaking to reporters on Friday, said he had discussed U.S. plans to reimpose sanctions on Iran with “all but one” country. He did not name the country he had not yet consulted.
“What they’ve asked us to do is review how we get there and the timeline for that,” he said, “and so I’m very confident they understand.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking in remarks carried live on state television on Saturday, said Washington was more isolated than ever over sanctions against Iran, even among its allies.
His comments appeared to be trying to ease popular concerns fueled by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal with Iran on its nuclear program.
The likely return of U.S. economic sanctions has triggered a rapid fall of Iran’s currency and protests by bazaar traders usually loyal to the Islamist rulers.
Trump has said he asked Saudi Arabia to raise oil production if needed to ensure global oil supplies and the country has 2 million barrels per day of spare capacity.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed with Russia and other oil-producing allies on June 23 to raise output from July, with Saudi Arabia pledging a “measurable” supply boost, but giving no specific numbers.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Phil Berlowitz