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US To Exempt Seven More Nations From Iran Oil Sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that she had decided to exempt seven more nations from the tough U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil sector, noting that those countries have significantly reduced purchases of Iranian crude oil in recent months.

"I have made the determination that seven economies — India, Malaysia, South Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan - have all significantly reduced their volume of crude oil purchases from Iran. They join the 11 countries for which I made this determination in March," Clinton said in a statement.

The United States in March had exempted 11 nations, including Japan and ten EU member-states, from its sanctions on Iran. Notably, all of the 27 EU members-states banned new Iranian oil imports from January 23 and agreed to phase out their existing purchase contracts by July 1. The 17 EU members not included in the exemption list had stopped importing Iranian oil last year itself. Incidentally, China is not among the countries exempted from the U.S. sanctions so far.

The nations yet to be included in the exemption list risk being cut off from the U.S. financial system unless they start reducing their consumption of Iranian oil significantly by June 28, when the new U.S. sanctions are to take effect. The measures are aimed at crippling the Islamic Republic's oil revenue that finances its disputed nuclear program.

The measures, approved by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December, authorizes the administration to bar foreign financial institutions that engage in financial transactions with Iran's Central Bank and oil sector, making it difficult for Tehran to sell its crude oil in the international market. They, however, carry the option of waiving penalties for national security reasons.

Clinton said she would soon inform the Congress about the administration's decision, which gives the banks of the seven listed nations a six-month reprieve from being hit by penalties under the new U.S. sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to drop its disputed nuclear program.

She said the sanctions were part of Washington's efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and to encourage Iran to comply with its international obligations, and noted that the latest announcement "underscores the success of our sanctions implementation."

"By reducing Iran's oil sales, we are sending a decisive message to Iran's leaders: until they take concrete actions to satisfy the concerns of the international community, they will continue to face increasing isolation and pressure," Clinton said.

She reiterated Washington's commitment to a dual-track policy that offers Iran the chance to engage seriously with the international community for resolving concerns over its nuclear program through the ongoing negotiations with the six world powers, and added: "Iran has the ability to address these concerns by taking concrete steps during the next round of talks in Moscow. I urge its leaders to do so."

Her remarks come ahead of the scheduled negotiations between representatives of the P5+1 nations, namely the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, and Iran in Moscow on June 18-19 on Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The negotiations are being mediated by EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton. The Moscow meeting follows the last round of failed negotiations on the issue in Iraqi capital Baghdad in May.

The Baghdad talks ended in deadlock after Iran rejected proposals put forward by the P5+1 nations for persuading Tehran to roll back its uranium enrichment work. The P5+1 nations are said to have offered to supply medical isotopes and provide co-operation on nuclear safety to Iran if it halted its 20 percent uranium enrichment program.

Nevertheless, Iran is said to have rejected the offer, insisting that uranium enrichment is its non-negotiable right. Tehran's representatives also presented their own five-point package of proposals on "nuclear and non-nuclear issues" to the other participating nations. Incidentally, Iran has already survived four sets of sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council following its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

Although Iran insists that its uranium enrichment activity is aimed at producing fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran, the West suspects such claims to be a cover-up for producing weapon-grade uranium. The West wants to persuade Iran to halt enriching uranium to 20 percent level, which can be used for making nuclear weapons, and allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to verify the so-claimed peaceful intentions of the Islamic Republic's nuclear work.

by RTT Staff Writer

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