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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

U.S. slaps sanctions on companies working with Iran


The United States is imposing sanctions against seven companies for working with Iran in the energy sector, part of an effort to suppress Tehran's nuclear program, the State Department said Tuesday.

The companies in Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Monaco and Venezuela's state oil company "engaged in activities related to the supply of refined petroleum products in Iran," Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg announced.

"Iran uses revenues from its energy sector to fund its nuclear program as well as mask procurement of dual-use items," Steinberg said.

Different sanctions have been selected for each company.

"In some cases our intent has been to shut down the activities of target firms. In others our intent is dissuasive," Steinberg said. "In all cases we've examined transactions in detail and have made judgments about the likely impact of our actions on the global energy market."

For example, Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, will be cut off from access to U.S. government contracts, U.S. import-export financing and licenses for controlled technologies, but the sanctions will not prevent the sale of oil to the U.S. or other markets, according to Steinberg. The sanctions also do not affect any of PDVSA's subsidiaries, such as Citgo.

The move was slammed by Venezuelan lawmaker Freddy Bernal, a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, who said the decision to sanction the state oil company is an attack against the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"Once again, Hillary Clinton -- acting as the head of the colonies in Latin America -- seeks to impose sanctions against PDVSA for alleged ties to an Iranian nuclear program. I've never heard anything more ridiculous. For her to involve Venezuela in a nuclear program is ridiculous," he said.

A former director at PDVSA, Jose Toro Hardy, said the sanctions should not impact oil exports to the United States, but that they are sending a strong message of fear to financial markets regardless.

The announcement Tuesday brings the total number of companies sanctioned by the Obama administration under the official Iran Sanctions Act to nine. The administration is the first to impose sanctions under the act, which has been on the books since 1996, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters in a conference call under the agreement that the official's name not be used.

In a separate action Tuesday, the administration also imposed sanctions on 16 foreign companies and individuals under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act for their activities in support of weapons of mass destruction or missile programs primarily in Iran. Chinese, Belarussian, Iranian, North Korean, Syrian and Venezuelan companies and individuals were involved.

The policies have already had a significant impact on Iran's energy sector, and Tuesday's sanctions on the additional companies will send a strong signal to companies around the world about the risk of doing business with Iran, according to the senior official.

"Five major oil companies have committed to terminate their involvement in Iran," the official said. "Major suppliers of refined petroleum and energy traders have stopped sales of refined product to Iran. Jet fuel suppliers are now refusing to supply jet fuel to Iran Air at most destinations in Europe and Asia where Iran Air flies."

The official did concede, however, that for most of the entities sanctioned Tuesday "very few, if any" currently have commercial dealings with the United States.

"So the immediate practical impact of the sanctions will be minimal," the official said.


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