The Biden administration is putting the economic screws to Iran, edging toward tightening sanctions, as efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal teeter, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The news outlet, citing unnamed sources at the Treasury and State Departments, reported the United States next week will send a top-level delegation to the United Arab Emirates — a top U.S. ally, Iran’s second-largest trade partner, and a conduit for Iran’s trade and financial transactions with other countries.
U.S. officials will meet with petrochemicals companies and other private firms and banks in the UAE doing billions of dollars of trade with Iran, and are warning that the United States has “visibility on transactions that are not compliant with sanctions,” the Journal quoted one source saying. “Those banks and firms face extreme risk if this continues.”
The officials said the visit could be followed by sanctions against Emirati companies as well, the Journal reported.
According to the Journal, the pressure comes as talks to revive the nuclear deal continue in Vienna Thursday among Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany; the U.S. delegation will only travel to Vienna at the weekend. Iran refuses to negotiate directly with the United States.
U.S. officials say if there is no progress, the delegation to the UAE could be the first of more visits to other countries to tighten the economic pressure on Iran by squeezing its ability to evade the U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, the Journal reported.
The efforts could include efforts to tighten sanctions compliance by companies in Malaysia, Turkey, and China, Iran’s leading trade partner, the Journal reported.
The United States is also working with financial firms in Japan and South Korea to track illicit Iranian trade, the Journal reported.
U.S. officials say Emirati firms have played a major role as a conduit for financial transactions, oil sales, and other commerce that Iran is conducting with other countries, including China. And those firms make up “a very important portion of Iran’s continued commerce flows,” one source told the Journal.
“Leaders in the United Arab Emirates are eyeing an economic windfall should the Biden administration succeed” in its effort to return to the nuclear deal, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Bourse & Bazaar Foundation, an economic think tank, wrote in October, the Journal reported. “But they have not waited for the lifting of sanctions to begin earning billions from Iran.”