Iran is bracing for the restoration of US sanctions on its vital oil industry set to take effect on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, as it grapples with an economic crisis that has sparked sporadic protests over rising prices, corruption and unemployment.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the decision, did not name the eight, which he referred to as "jurisdictions", a term that might include importers such as Taiwan which the United States does not regard as a country.
"Not only did we decide to grant many fewer exemptions, but we demanded much more serious concessions from these jurisdictions before agreeing to allow them to temporarily continue to import Iranian crude oil".
A Chinese official told Reuters that discussions with the USA government were ongoing and that a result was expected over the next couple of days.
Another country that has been seeking a sanctions waiver is Turkey, which takes significant volumes via pipeline from neighboring Iran.
Companies that buy Iranian crude after the sanctions take effect may be cut off from the USA financial system.
Barack Obama, the United States president at the time, had argued the deal would prevent Iran from developing nuclear arms. Companies like Total SA and Royal Dutch Shell Plc have halted purchases because the risk of being frozen out of the United States financial system is simply too great.
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With Washington poised to curtail Iran's oil exports, OPEC heavyweight Saudi Arabia and its partners stand ready to ramp up supplies even as market conditions remain uncertain, analysts say.
On Friday, the Trump administration announced the restoration of sanctions on Iran's shipping, financial and energy sectors, the second batch of penalties to be restored after President Donald Trump withdrew the USA from the 2015 nuclear agreement in May.
Thousands of Iranians rallied in Tehran on Sunday to mark the 39th anniversary of the US Embassy takeover, as Washington restored all sanctions lifted under the nuclear deal.
Pompeo said the United States would grant exemptions to eight countries that have pledged to or have already cut back on purchases of petroleum from Iran, which has long depended on crude exports to power its economy.
During the last sanctions period, China funnelled nearly all its Iranian transactions through the Bank of Kunlun, controlled by Chinese state energy group CNPC, which was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2012 but shielded the rest of the sector from penalties.
European Union states which backed the deal have said they will protect European Union firms doing "legitimate" business with Iran.
Mnuchin says the USA has informed SWIFT that it would be subject to US sanctions if it provides financial transfer services to "certain designated Iranian financial institutions".
That could make it extremely hard for Iran to do business with other countries.