US ‘not looking to grant further Iran oil waivers’

Brian Hook declined to say what the Trump administration would do when import waivers on Iran oil for certain countries expired in May. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 13 January 2019
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US ‘not looking to grant further Iran oil waivers’

ABU DHABI: The US is not looking to grant more waivers for Iranian oil imports after the reimposition of US sanctions, the US special representative for Iran said on Saturday, underlining Washington’s push to choke off Tehran’s income.

“We are not looking to grant any waivers or exemptions to the import of Iranian crude,” Brian Hook told a industry conference in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.

Washington granted waivers to eight major buyers of Iranian oil — including China, India, Japan and South Korea — after restoring energy sanctions in November.

Hook declined to say what the administration in Washington would do when those waivers end in May.

“Iran is now increasingly feeling the economic isolation that our sanctions are imposing ... We do want to deny the regime revenues,” Hook said.

“Eighty percent of Iran’s revenues come from oil exports and this is (the) number one state sponsor of terrorism ... We want to deny this regime the money it needs,” he added.

Tensions between Iran and the US have increased since May, when US President Donald Trump 
abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers, saying the accord was flawed in Tehran’s favor, and reintroduced sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the pact.

“We want a new and better deal (with Iran) but in that process we are denying the Iranian regime billions and billions of dollars and they are facing a liquidity crisis,” Hook said.

The Islamic Republic, he added, would not return to the negotiating table without pressure.

Tehran has refused to renegotiate its nuclear accord and says its ballistic missile program — another source of concern for Washington and its regional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia — is solely defensive and untouchable.

Hook said Washington was pleased with China cutting its oil imports from Iran, and that he expected much deeper reductions in Iranian oil exports. “We are just getting started,” he said.

Iran’s crude exports will be severely curtailed for a third month in January as it struggles to find new buyers amid the sanctions, according to tanker data and industry sources.

Separately, Omani Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Rumhi told the conference that Washington had not asked the Gulf Arab state to stop a gas pipeline project with Iran and that talks were continuing.

He said some partners for the project had pulled out because of the risk of punishment by Washington for dealing with Iran but that some other Asian firms were willing to take part.


Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

Updated 23 January 2019
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Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

  • Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border could be followed elsewhere
  • Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani: Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade

DAVOS: Amid global trade wars and the rise of protectionism, Middle East economic and business leaders on Tuesday issued a clarion call for the exact opposite: To ease customs restrictions in the region.
A panel at Davos heard how an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boost cooperation — including the reduction of obstacles to trade across the shared border — could be a blueprint for the wider region.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border — partly through the use of technology — could be followed elsewhere. “We want to establish a reference for others to follow,” he said.
Alain Bejjani, CEO of retail and leisure group Majid Al Futtaim, said “frictionless trade” would give the region a boost.
“Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the Davos forum.
Bejjani declined to say whether that would involve a customs union, a common market or a common currency. Given the imposition of trade tariffs between the US and China, and the rise of Brexit, globalization — something espoused by many Davos delegates — is seen as on the wane.
But Bejjani said breaking down barriers in the Middle East could help it better compete with Western Europe and the US.
“For the past almost century now… we’ve been ingeniously working on making sure we put barriers across the Arab world. The reality is we have a market that’s as big as most of the largest markets in the world… if we’re smart enough to work together,” he told the Davos panel.
Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, agreed that Saudi-UAE cooperation was “a great template” for others to follow.
Aside from “opening up” Middle East markets, Al-Rumaihi said harmonizing regulation in the region would also be beneficial to businesses and entrepreneurs.
“If the rules are changing in each country, if they’re not harmonized, it’s very difficult… for an entrepreneur (to understand) the regulatory environment. So they don’t scale very quickly, and that’s something we need to solve,” he said. Talk of freer trade within the Middle East is especially relevant when it comes to the Palestinian territories, which are subject to Israeli occupation and blockade.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said freer movement and a reduction of duties would help the economy grow.
“We need to see our products being waived (of) customs,” he said. “We need mobility — we’re under occupation.”