Trump Admin Vows to Cripple Iranian Oil Industry

With international jitters over loss of Iranian oil, Trump admin doubles down

Oil pumpjack
Oil pumpjack / Getty Images
February 13, 2019

WARSAW, Poland—The Trump administration is vowing to cripple Iran's international oil trade in the coming months, issuing new promises to ensure that international allies drop their imports of Iranian crude to zero in the coming months.

Richard Goldberg, a member of the White House's National Security Council in charge of amplifying the administration's pressure campaign on Iran, said countries should not expect waivers permitting them to purchase Iranian crude oil to be renewed, an issue that has generated diplomatic jitters as the administration seeks to avoid further inflating the price of oil.

While the State Department issued several waivers to a cadre of countries last year, Goldberg suggested this will not happen again, citing new energy data that the global oil market could absorb cutting Iranian exports to zero.

In recent months, Brian Hook, the State Department's top Iran envoy, has issued a series of statements that leave the door open to further waivers. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Hook, and other senior State Department officials huddle here in Warsaw for a multi-nation summit on problems facing the Middle East, the issue of Iranian crude is likely to fuel more conversations.

"The United States will do everything we can do to dry up the money the Islamic Republic uses for illicit, dangerous, and destabilizing purposes," Goldberg said during an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Goldberg served as a senior adviser before moving into the White House NSC.

Goldberg pointed to recent comments by Hook suggesting no further waiver would be issued.

"As Special Representative Hook recently noted, jurisdictions that received significant reduction exceptions to import Iranian crude should not expect those exceptions to be renewed," Goldberg said in some of the clearest remarks to date on the issue. "The oil market is well supplied and can absorb the loss of Iranian crude."

Goldberg's comments represent a clear line in the sand for the administration since the recent imposition of Venezuelan oil sanctions. The administration will not allow the taking of Venezuelan oil off the market to interfere with their plans to force Iranian oil out of the marketplace.

"U.S. sanctions will be enforced," Goldberg said in his brief remarks, adding that  "more sanctions are on the way" in addition to those reimposed on Iran in November. Those sanctions, he said, represent "a first step," or "a baseline, not a finish line."

U.S. officials familiar with the interagency battle over Iran oil waivers told the Washington Free Beacon that behind-the-scenes disagreement over zeroing out Tehran's oil trade continues to plague the administration with particular friction between the White House and State Department.

"There's opinions and there's math," said one source familiar with the matter who would only discuss the tension on background. "Some people inside the administration have an opinion that we should keep letting Iran sell oil for all sorts of reasons."

"But the math, the actual models that our scientists run to make actual predictions, says we can force Iran to zero exports without causing energy prices to spiral," the source said. "There's just no justification left to let Iran keep selling oil."

The State Department was unable to respond to Free Beacon questions about the apparent discrepancy in views.

Published under: Iran , Oil , Sanctions