Iranian officials are plotting with U.S. allies across the globe to develop a series a measures meant to counter new sanctions by the Trump administration following its abandonment of the landmark nuclear deal, setting up a global economic showdown between America and its allies over their future business dealings with the Islamic Republic.
Iranian leaders disclosed on Tuesday that they had recently held high-level meetings with European Union nations and leaders in India and Thailand to explore options for skirting new U.S. sanctions.
Iran's efforts and the warm reception it is receiving from many nations has roiled leaders on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers are already moving to confront these countries and ensure they face harsh repercussions for any breach of U.S. sanction law.
The State Department also is scrambling to respond to Iran's efforts by building a counter-coalition aimed at isolating Tehran and any nation that works with Iran to skirt new U.S. sanctions, U.S. officials told the Washington Free Beacon.
Iranian Government Spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht disclosed on Tuesday that the nation's top leaders, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, have met with European leaders and others in the region to discuss skirting new U.S. sanctions, which have targeted virtually every portion of Iran's economy, including its contested nuclear and energy sectors.
Zarif recently concluded a trip to India and Thailand, where he is reported to have made much progress in convincing these nations to help Tehran "bypass" the new U.S. sanctions, which were fully reimposed by the Trump administration after its decision to walk away from the nuclear agreement.
"In addition to the E.U., we are improving relations with other countries, especially the neighbors," Nobakht was quoted as saying on Tuesday in Iran's state-controlled press.
Meetings with leaders in India are said to have gone particularly well for Iran, sparking outrage in the United States where these same Indian leaders have been pleading with the Trump administration to boost relations.
India and China have already vowed to continue purchasing Iranian crude oil, despite the Trump administration's crackdown.
"A major part of the oil is sold to India and China," Nobakht said. "We are also in talks with Europe to continue oil sales to them, and Iran's increased oil sales to them has even been under discussion with them to compensate any drop if some states decrease oil imports."
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, in remarks following meetings with top Iranian leaders, vowed to ignore U.S. sanctions.
"India follows only [United Nations] sanctions and not unilateral sanctions by any country," Swaraj was quoted as saying, emphasizing that India remains "independent" and immune to "pressure."
A U.S. State Department official, speaking only on background, told the Free Beacon that under newly installed Secretary of State Pompeo's leadership, American diplomats are already developing relationships aimed at ensuring U.S. sanctions on Iran have a maximum impact.
"We are hard at work in our efforts to build our new effort to counter the totality of Iran's malign activity with our friends around the world. Secretary Pompeo speaks frequently with his counterparts from the UK, France, and Germany as well as our allies in the Middle East and Asia," the official said.
Teams of U.S. diplomats are being sent across the globe to galvanize support for the new U.S. sanctions, the official said.
"We will be sending out teams of diplomats and specialists to talk about specific concerns with the plan for re-imposition of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions and next steps with Iran," the official said. "We are fully engaged at all levels."
On Capitol Hill, opponents of the nuclear accord are working on parallel efforts to ensure that any foreign nation caught skirting new U.S. sanctions on Iran faces harsh repercussions, including massive economic penalties and a possible cutoff from the U.S. financial system.
"India is going out of its way to alienate members of Congress, including many who have been sympathetic and trying to help them," said one senior congressional official who works on the issue and has discussed the matter with the administration.
"They're almost certainly violating the sanctions against Russia that overwhelmingly passed Congress last summer," said the source, who would only speak on background about these efforts. "Now they're bragging about violating Iran sanctions too. They keep telling us they want a new relationship with America but then they act in these destructive ways. It's very troubling."