U.S. Sanctions Iran’s Petroleum Minister as Tensions Escalate

The U.S. sanctioned Iran’s minister of petroleum and some related entities as tensions between the two nations continue to rise in the days before the U.S. presidential election.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh in a statement on Monday, saying Iran uses its oil industry to fund activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force.

“The regime in Iran uses the petroleum sector to fund the destabilizing activities of the IRGC-QF,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Monday. “The Iranian regime continues to prioritize its support for terrorist entities and its nuclear program over the needs of the Iranian people.”

Zanganeh is a veteran of Iran’s oil industry who is widely seen as a skillful technocrat who shepherded the Islamic Republic’s market-share revival within OPEC after the 2015 nuclear deal. He is also seen as one of President Hassan Rouhani’s most moderate aides.

The architect of the Iranian oil industry’s post-sanctions recovery, Zanganeh helped secure several multibillion dollar joint-ventures with foreign investors, including France’s Total SA and China National Petroleum Corp., before the Trump era abruptly ended Iran’s tentative economic recovery.

Iran’s OPEC Veteran Weathers Storms From Trump to Saudi Arabia

Since Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran and sought to wipe-out the country’s crude exports from global markets, Zanganeh has maintained a strict policy of not publicly discussing Iranian output and production levels and has frequently condemned the U.S. president for his efforts to directly influence and intervene in OPEC policy and decisions.

A public affairs official at the Ministry of Petroleum in Tehran said Zanganeh had not yet officially responded to the decision and declined to comment further on the matter.

Monday’s move will have little impact on current oil prices with existing sanctions already keeping most Iranian crude out of the global market. Brent is trading just above $40 a barrel, down about $5 a barrel since late summer as the latest pandemic surge sweeps through Western Europe and the U.S.

Blacklisting Banks

Nevertheless, the Trump administration has ramped up its already intense pressure on Iran ahead of the Nov. 3 election, partly to help ensure a potential Joe Biden administration won’t have as much room to ease sanctions. The U.S. announcedsweeping new restrictions on Iran’s financial sector this month, as well as blacklisting 18 banks which has escaped earlier sanctions.

Trump has said he thinks Iran will return to the negotiating table after he wins reelection, something Rouhani’s government has repeatedly rejected. Biden has signaled he’d be open to talks with Iran if it agrees to return to the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord and consider a broader agreement.

— With assistance by Sheela Tobben

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