On Thursday the Obama administration announced that China, Iran’s biggest oil customer, would receive an exemption from U.S. economic sanctions for reducing its imports of Iranian oil.
A law passed late last year required major buyers of crude oil from Iran to significantly reduce their purchases by June 28 or face being cut off from the U.S. financial system.
All 20 of Iran’s major oil buyers have now been exempted from sanctions.
These sanctions are part of an ongoing American effort to put pressure on Iran to end its uranium enrichment program.
Tehran has insisted that its nuclear program is only being used for peaceful purposes. However, many Western countries fear that Iran is in fact building nuclear weapons. These concerns have been fueled by Tehran’s refusal to submit its nuclear facilities to international inspections.
Singapore was another last-minute addition to the list of exemptions — it received a waiver from the State Department the day the sanctions were due to be enforced.
The exemptions apply for 180 days, with potential renewal depending on compliance.
The sanctions are aimed at disrupting Iran’s economy. On Wednesday an Iranian official admitted that oil exports had dropped by 20 to 30 percent from standard levels of approximately 2.2 million barrels a day.
According to the International Energy Agency, Iran’s oil exports have dropped to roughly 1.5 million barrels per day this year, in comparison to highs of 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011.
Senior administration officials said that China had reduced its imports of crude oil from Iran for its own self-interest and not to comply with the new U.S. law. However, the reductions were significant enough for the State Department to grant a waiver.
“China has taken these actions for its own commercial and energy security reasons,” officials said. “Still, these actions very much align with our shared global interest and allow us to move forward with the exception.”
“This decision [to grant waivers to China and Singapore] further represents the success of our sanctions policy,” officials added.