- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Trump administration leveled sanctions against Iran’s space agency for the first time Tuesday, elevating its pressure campaign against the Islamic republic at a moment when other powers were offering Tehran a possible lifeline to evade U.S. restrictions on Iranian oil exports.

France said this week it was considering a $15 billion line of credit to Iran to finance new oil exports, and Russian officials pushed a plan that would open the ports of Crimea on the Black Sea to Iranian oil shipments. The twin developments were part of an accelerating diplomatic effort to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of last year.

Ahead of a Thursday deadline set by Tehran to again ramp nuclear enrichment activities beyond the deal’s limits, France proposed Tuesday that Iran be offered the new financing on the condition that it refrain from further breaches of the pact.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian, after a long meeting with Iranian economists and central bank officials in Paris Monday, told reporters that such a line of credit could only work with the acquiescence of the Trump administration — something the White House appears unlikely to embrace.

The administration’s focus Tuesday was on increasing the pressure on Tehran. The State and Treasury Departments announced new sanctions targeting Iran’s space agency, charging that the agency was developing ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. mandates under the guise of a civilian program to launch satellites into orbit.

The sanctions come after a rocket exploded last week at Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center in what an Iranian officials have said was a technical malfunction during a test.

“Space launch vehicle (SLV) technologies, such as those developed by Iran’s space program, are virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles,” the State Department said in a statement. Following last week’s explosion, President Trump tweeted a surveillance image depicting the apparent aftermath of the incident and declared that the U.S. had played no role in the failure.

Iran has sought help from the other 2015 deal signatories as the U.S. sanctions have decimated its economy, cut off its export markets and sent the currency plummeting. An Iranian tanker briefly detained by British authorities in Gibraltar on Tuesday turned off its tracking signals off the Syrian coast, fueling speculation it would unload its cargo there in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

Russia also reportedly is offering Iran a lifeline as economic relations between the two intensify. Officials in Crimea, seized by the Kremlin from Ukraine five years ago have reportedly offered Iran access to its ports in the Black Sea to skirt a U.S. effort to choke off Iran’s oil exports.

Georgy Muradov, the deputy prime minister of Crimea’s Russian-backed government, told Russia’s state-run TASS news agency last week that Crimea is “sending signals” of cooperation to Iran “given the anti-Iranian policy of the United States,” the Moscow Times reported Tuesday.

“Iran can take advantage of our shipping opportunities and river-sea canals, transporting oil over the Volga-Don canal, via Crimea, to the Black Sea,” Mr. Muradov told the Russian news service.

The 2015 deal reached between the U.S., Iran, China, Russia and Western European powers had curtailed Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international economic sanctions. The Trump administration unilaterally pulled out last year and began reimposing sanctions both on Iran and on foreign companies that trade with Tehran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials say the goal is to pressure Tehran into a broader deal that addresses the full range of its “malign” activities — including its backing of militant proxy organizations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Iran has so far shown little appetite for such negotiations, particularly when other international signatories to the 2015 deal have spent the past year trying to keep the agreement alive.

⦁ This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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