US puts 'maximum pressure' on Iran as sanctions resume

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The United States has granted exemptions to eight countries allowing them to temporarily continue buying Iranian oil, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday, as Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran's banking, energy and shipping industries.

The United States officially reimposed all penalties that had been lifted as part of the Iranian nuclear deal as the Trump administration added almost 700 targets, including 50 Iranian financial institutions, to a sanctions list Monday.

The deal had seen most global financial and economic sanctions on Iran lifted in return for Tehran curbing its disputed nuclear activity under United Nations surveillance.

Late last week, US government officials signaled that the United States would be granting waivers to eight countries to continue temporarily buying Iranian oil, on the condition that they had significantly reduced purchases from Iran.

China, India, South Korea, Japan and Turkey - all top importers of Iranian oil - are among eight countries expected to be given temporary exemptions from the sanctions to ensure crude oil prices are not destabilized.

The Trump administration's intensifying effort to strangle Iran's economy, critics say, marks a gamble as it divides the USA from traditional allies in Europe and casts uncertainty into oil markets.

Mr. Trump called the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran the "worst ever" agreement stuck by the U.S. But the other parties to the deal - Britain, France, Germany, China and Russian Federation - stuck with it.

"If Iran decides, a single drop of this region's oil will not be exported and in 90 minutes all Persian Gulf countries will be destroyed", he told followers during a prayer sermon.

The US is forcing other countries to cut off ties with Iran and has threatened to impose sanctions on them as well.

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The U.S. retains the flexibility to tighten sanctions further in coming months, but Monday's measures will deprive the rulers in Tehran of more cash for their foreign adventures. "We are in the economic war situation".

Oil prices rallied above $85 per barrel in October on fears of a steep decline in Iranian exports.

But President Donald Trump announced last May that the USA would withdraw from the agreement.

Monday's action brings to more than 900 the number of Iranian entities sanctioned by the Trump administration in almost two years.

In a sweeping list, the Treasury Department labeled an additional 700 entities, including individuals, banks, vessels, aircraft and Iran's energy sector as part of its decision to reapply harsh sanctions that kicked in early Monday morning.

"We're going to have sanctions that even go beyond this. The US-& not Iran-is isolated".

"Any financial institution, company, or individual who evades our sanctions risks losing access to the USA financial system and the ability to do business with the United States or U.S. companies", Mnuchin said.

The US sanctions herald the end of Washington's involvement in the landmark 2015 deal signed between Iran, the US and other world powers, which was created to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.

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