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Great Satan US looks for spies at sea to take out Iran’s oil shipments

The US government says it plans to crank up its unprecedented pressure on Iran by targeting shippers, port officials and insurance companies that help in storing Iranian oil.

The new measures are basically intended at curbing Iran’s oil flow to China which continues imports from the Middle Eastern country despite the unilateral US sanctions.

“We will target and designate anybody that stores Iranian oil, petrochemicals or refined petroleum in violation of US sanctions, no matter where they are,” David Peyman, the deputy assistant secretary of state for counter threat finance and sanctions, said on Monday.

Washington is resorting to some of the most unconventional ways which include seducing ship captains into taking photos and submitting them to the US government of anyone conducting ship-to-ship transfers – in other words turning them into virtual spies for the US government in international waters.

The Trump administration will soon issue advisories which will also warn shipping vessels against turning off tracking devices in an effort to avoid US sanctions on Iran, Peyman said.

“Transponders that provide the location of vessels should never be turned off. If they are, that presents a risk that requires heightened diligence,” Peyman told the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that supports tough sanctions on Iran.

The US government is depicting its most draconian sanctions on Iranians as a service to them, saying their ultimate goal is to promote democracy.

On Monday, Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh said US sanctions are hampering Tehran’s efforts to buy food and medicine at a time when the country is grappling with a coronavirus outbreak.

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Zangeneh cast aspersions on the Trump administration’s claims that Iran’s imports of medicine and other humanitarian goods are exempt from the unilateral US sanctions. “It’s a big lie,” the minister told Bloomberg.

Last week, online US news publication The Intercept reported that a group with close ties to Donald Trump was pressuring pharmaceutical companies not to sell drugs to Tehran despite his claim that the US was ready to aid Iran with the coronavirus outbreak.

The targeted companies include Bayer, Merck, Pfizer, Genzyme, AirSep, Medrad, Becton, Dickinson & Company, Eli Lilly, and Abbott Laboratories, with pro-Israeli United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) urging them to “end their Iran business”.

The report came after the United States said last Thursday that it had issued a license to permit some humanitarian trade transactions to be conducted with Iran’s sanctioned central bank.  

President Trump said later the US was willing to aid Iran with its coronavirus outbreak, adding that “all they have to do is ask,” just after he authorized the expansion of travel restrictions against Iran. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shot back, saying the offer was insincere and that Washington had better first lift its sanctions on medical supplies to Iran if it really sought to help the Islamic Republic.

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According to Tyler Cullis, an attorney specializing in sanctions law at Ferrari & Associates, US sanctions “have had a long-term impact on Iran’s ability to freely import medical supplies”.

Zangeneh on Monday also questioned the US leaders’ sincerity in offering aid to Iran. “Do they think that we have billions of dollars in deposit in the international bank to come into us to use that money for buying the food and medicines?” he said.

The minister said that the sanctions have specifically targeted the Iranian people, adding the US should be held to account for making life difficult for the Iranians, especially the poor. “I believe … at some time in the future these should be asked in a criminal court,” he said.

The Trump administration pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and soon after unilaterally imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s oil exports, saying it wanted to bring the shipments down to zero.  

China has dismissed the sanctions, saying they amount to “bullying” and has defended its trade with Iran as legitimate and legal.

The US says Chinese companies continuing oil purchases from Iran are seriously worrying the White House. It has accused Chinese shipping companies of turning off their transponders to conceal the location of their cargoes. 

In September, the US announced sanctions on five Chinese nationals and six entities, including two Cosco Shipping Corporation subsidiaries, saying they had shipped Iranian crude oil in violation of the sanctions.

The coercive measures were similar to US sanctions imposed in July on energy company Zhuhai Zhenrong, one of China’s largest state-backed oil companies for transporting Iranian crude oil.

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