A day after sanctioning leading Iranian broadcasters, the United States sanctioned 13 businesses it said were involved in Iran’s petrochemical exports.

The US Treasury announced the actions against companies based in various jurisdictions, including the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong. It said they had brokered the sale in ‘East Asia’ of “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Iranian petrochemicals and petroleum products.”

The Treasury statement said the companies had worked on behalf of the Indian company Triliance, which Washington sanctioned in 2020, or Iranian brokers Persian Gulf Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCC), sanctioned in 2019.

This was the fifth round of designations targeting Iran’s petroleum and petrochemical exports since June, the Treasury said, and was done largely under presidential executive orders introduced by former president Donald Trump after he withdrew the US in 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ led to a drastic fall in Iran’s oil exports from around 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) as third parties mainly ended sales in fear of US punitive action. Tehran countered by exporting oil, petrochemicals and other goods through concealing shipments from US eyes.

While President Joe Biden came to office committed to restoring the JCPOA, failure of multilateral and bilateral talks over how to do this has now seen the Biden administration extend the use of Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ executive orders and of earlier sanctions measures. PCC was designated under a 2005 executive order under President George W Bush.

While many countries and companies cut back or ended purchases from Iran during the Trump presidency, in some cases freezing billions of dollars owed to Tehran, they criticize the US sanctioning third parties. Among the companies sanctioned Thursday, Access Technology, Sum Five, Asian Zone Trading, and Monch Trading are all based in Dubai. Highline Logistic, Torgan, Barza, and Aeonian are Hong Kong companies.

‘All sanctions still available’

Under the terms of the executive orders, any property held by the listed companies in the US may be seized, while US citizens and residents are barred from dealings with them. “In addition,” the Treasury statement said, “persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals and entities designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action.”

Biden’s special Iran envoy Rob Malley claimed this week the US had lost focus on the JCPOA due to Russia using Iranian drones in Ukraine and Tehran’s use of force against domestic protests. Support for extending sanctions came Wednesday in a statement from 14 Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee demanding greater “pressure on the [Iranian] regime” and “justice and accountability for the brave Iranians who already lost their lives at the hands of state authorities…”

Among the signatories were Joaquin Castro, Ted Lieu, Ilhan Omar, Brad Schneider, and Susan Wild. Lieu, who opposed the JCPOA in 2015, said the US should “impose immediately all sanctions that are still available on Iran.”

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