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Trump Administration Sends Warning To Countries That Continue To Import Oil From Iran


The Trump administration is sending a warning to China, India and others. Stop importing oil from Iran, or risk U.S. sanctions. It's part of a pressure campaign meant to force Iran to change its behavior. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports the U.S. is facing some pushback on this approach.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Ever since the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. has been ramping up sanctions and calling on countries around the world to stop buying Iranian oil. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had given eight importers a six-month grace period, but now that is coming to an end.


MIKE POMPEO: Today I'm announcing that we will no longer grant any exemptions. We're going to zero - going to zero across the board.

KELEMEN: His aides would not say what kind of sanctions countries might face if they continue to import Iranian oil. There are some big U.S. trading partners in the mix, including China, India and Turkey. China said the U.S. is reaching beyond its jurisdiction and taking unilateral action. Turkey's foreign minister said the sanctions will not serve regional peace and stability. But the State Department's point person on Iran, Brian Hook, says this pressure campaign is meant to force Iran to behave like a normal country.


BRIAN HOOK: It is very hard to imagine a peaceful and stable Middle East if you accept the status quo of Iran's expansionist foreign policy.

KELEMEN: Proponents of the Iran nuclear deal known as the JCPOA say it's working to keep Iran's nuclear program in check. But Pompeo says it doesn't address U.S. concerns about Iran's destabilizing activity, and the sanctions which he says have already denied Iran more than $10 billion should force Iran back to negotiations.


POMPEO: And if they're prepared to come to the table and negotiate those things to get to that outcome, fantastic. If not, the campaign with which we've been engaged since, frankly, the administration took office but more clearly since the president's decision to withdraw from the JCPOA - that campaign will continue.

KELEMEN: The administration is not leaving much room for diplomacy, says Ariane Tabatabai, an Iran expert with the Rand Corporation.

ARIANE TABATABAI: The administration's stated goal is to get the Iranians to return to the negotiating table and get a big-for-big deal. But I don't think the administration is doing enough to signal to the Iranians that the diplomatic channel is open, that if they do come back to the table, that sanctions will be removed and the administration is willing to stick by its word.

KELEMEN: Tabatabai says the U.S. seems more interested in forcing the Iranian regime to collapse. And though she doesn't see either side pushing for war, she worries about miscalculations. Today Secretary Pompeo was putting Iran on notice.


POMPEO: We've made clear to Iran's leaders that if Americans are attacked, we will respond in a serious way.

KELEMEN: And respond to any threats to Americans from Shia militias supported by Iran. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.