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US: Sanction Exemptions Available      07/17 06:17

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Countries and businesses that continue to import Iranian 
oil could avoid penalties by making "significant reductions" as Washington 
re-imposes sanctions on Tehran later this year, according to top U.S. officials.

   "We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if 
people can't do that overnight, we'll consider exemptions," Treasury Secretary 
Steven Mnuchin told journalists as he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 
returned to the U.S. from Mexico late last week.

   Pompeo maintained that the possible wiggle room didn't undermine the U.S. 
commitment to restrict Iran's economy.

   "Make no mistake about it," Pompeo said, "we're determined to impose these 
sanctions globally and broadly."

   Harsh economic sanctions on Iranian entities and groups with links to Tehran 
have been central to the Trump administration's policy in the region. President 
Donald Trump has repeatedly called Iran the most destabilizing force in the 
Middle East, pointing to armed groups the country supports in Lebanon, Syria, 
Iraq and Yemen.

   Pompeo said the punishing sanctions were aimed at depriving Iran of the 
resources to "continue to foment terror and malign activity around the world."

   The U.S. has faced significant pushback from key European allies over the 
planned imposition of so-called "secondary" sanctions that target businesses 
that continue to buy Iranian oil. While Germany, France and Britain didn't 
withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran, the global 
financial system is so interconnected and so tied to New York that it is almost 
impossible for anyone anywhere in the world to continue their business with 
Iran without risk of violating U.S. sanctions.

   Uncertainly surrounding the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions has already 
rocked Iran, contributing to the Iranian rial falling sharply against the U.S. 
dollar and sparking waves of protests across the country.

   Iranian oil exports --- they are the world's sixth largest --- have been of 
particular importance to global market stability. The White House says Saudi 
Arabia could raise oil production to make up for any shortfall, but Riyadh has 
not announced any plans.

   Crude oil prices sank Monday on reports the U.S. will take a softer stance 
on countries that import oil from Iran after sanctions on Iran's energy sector 
go back into effect.

   Benchmark U.S. crude fell 4.2 percent to $68.06 in New York. Brent crude, 
used to price international oils, fell 4.4 percent to $71.99 a barrel in London.

   Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has accused the U.S. of stoking an 
"economic war" and suggested Iran could immediately ramp up its production of 
uranium in response to U.S. pressure. Potentially that would escalate the very 
situation the nuclear deal sought to avoid --- an Iran with a stockpile of 
highly enriched uranium that it could use to build atomic bombs.

   "The mission is to get Iran to become a normal country," Pompeo said, 
explaining that the economic pressure is aimed at stopping Iran from 
"assassinating people" and "launching missiles around the world."

   "So, yes, we're using every element of American power to try and achieve 
(that) end, to try and get Iran to behave in a way that is rational and 
normal," he said.

   The officials spoke to reporters traveling with them on condition that their 
remarks not be reported until Monday.


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