US piles sanctions on Iran as Rouhani threatens new step back from nuclear commitments
Washington also refuses sanctions waivers for French offer of $15bn credit line to Tehran
The US ended a day of moves against Iran on Wednesday by imposing new sanctions against an Iranian oil shipping network it said was operating through Syria.
Washington earlier announced restrictions on Iran’s Civilian Space Agency and on Wednesday refused to waive sanctions to allow a French credit line to be extended to the country.
The sanctions against 16 entities, 10 people and 11 ships were followed by the Trump administration announcing a $15 million (Dh55.1m) reward for information that leads to disruptions to the oil network run by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Treasury Department said the network was “directed by and financially supported the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah”.
It said the network was managed mostly through Syria with $750m from oil smuggling. Treasury said the network used more than a dozen vessels to carry almost 10 million barrels of crude oil, mainly to the Syrian regime.
The US State Department announced the reward, with a maximum of $15m, for information that led to disruption to the finances of the Revolutionary Guard and its overseas operations branch, the Quds Force.
“This includes seeking information on the IRGC’s illicit oil sales, including via oil tankers like the Adrian Darya,” it said.
The Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, now called the Adrian Darya-1, turned off its tracking beacon near Syria on Wednesday morning, leading to speculation that its cargo of crude would be delivered to President Bashar Al Assad's regime in defiance of EU sanctions.
Authorities in Gibraltar released the tanker in August after receiving "written assurances" from Tehran that the cargo would not be delivered to Syria.
Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, said this was the first time that a government entity had come under the Rewards for Justice programme, which is normally used for non-state actors and terrorist organisations.
A short time before the US announced the sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would announce a new step in scaling back its nuclear commitments within two days.
That was despite an offer of a $15 billion credit facility from France to avoid economic collapse if Tehran returned to the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
"I don't think that we will reach a deal so we'll take the third step and we will announce the details today or tomorrow," Mr Rouhani said on the presidency website.
The French plan, introduced by President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit in Biarritz last month, suffered another serious blow late on Wednesday as the US refused to issue sanctions waivers to make the deal work.
France, Germany and the UK said they were ready to offer the credit facility if Tehran accepted conditions and the US approved the deal.
"We did sanctions today," Mr Hook said. "There will be more sanctions coming.
"We can't make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure and we are not looking to grant any exceptions or waivers."
His comments were a swift turnaround from those Mr Trump made during the G7, in which he appeared to support the move.
Also on Wednesday morning, Iran promised to free seven of the 23 detained crew members of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, then announced it had seized seven fishing boats in the Gulf of Oman.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the seven were allowed to depart the ship on humanitarian grounds and could leave Iran soon.
"We have no problem with the crew and the captain and the issue is violations that the vessel committed," Mr Mousavi said.
The Swedish-owned Stena Impero was detained by the Revolutionary Guard on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz.
The other 16 Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino sailors will stay on board to meet minimum requirements to operate the ship, making it unclear when the vessel would be released.
Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping trade association, said Iran must immediately release the other sailors when the seven crew had been freed.
"The ship was in international waters when it was detained and was in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations," Mr Sanguinetti said.
By the afternoon, the gesture appeared to have been forgotten as the Revolutionary Guard said its navy had detained the seven trawling vessels with 24 foreign crew.
Tehran claimed the boats were seized near the mouth of the Gulf on Tuesday for fishing too close to Iran's coast and other breaches, the Isna news agency reported.
It did not reveal the nationalities of the fishermen but Iranian media often reports on complaints from local fishermen about Chinese ships trawling in the area.
Updated: September 5, 2019 08:06 AM