According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration is considering fresh sanctions on Iran that target the Islamic Republic’s oil sales to China as a way to ramp up the pressure on Tehran.
Citing unnamed US officials and people “familiar with the matter,” the report said the US is considering options to either pressure Iran to keep negotiating on the nuclear deal or “punish” Iran if the talks fail. One of those options is sanctioning oil sales to China.
Since April, the US and Iran have been engaged in indirect negotiations to revive the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA. The talks have dragged out due to the Biden administration’s refusal to lift all Trump-era sanctions. The next round of negotiations is expected to start in August after President-elect Ebrahim Raisi replaces the current Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.
Oil sales to China are a vital lifeline for Iran’s struggling economy, which has been shattered by US sanctions. “There is not much left to sanction in Iran’s economy,” one US official told the Journal. “Iran’s oil sales to China is the prize.”
US sanctions wouldn’t discourage Chinese buyers, but the sanctions could target the shipping sector, making it harder to find ships to carry the Iranian oil. The Journal report said if the JCPOA talks fail, the US plan would involve the “aggressive enforcement of current sanctions banning dealings with Iran’s oil and shipping industry through new designations or legal actions.”
“Aggressive enforcement” could mean stealing cargo, like the US has done in the past with shipments of Iranian fuel to Venezuela. Earlier this year, the US seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the UAE and sold the cargo for $2 million.
Another option being considered to pressure Tehran is a diplomatic effort to convince countries like China not to purchase oil from Iran. The report said the US hasn’t decided on what plan it will go with.
Considering the US is the party that violated the JCPOA, Iran has already made major concessions to Washington by entering the talks and agreeing to negotiate limited sanctions relief. Implementing more sanctions now would likely discourage Iran from continuing the talks, which could be what the Biden administration is hoping for.