US to sanction China if Iranian crude trade continues: State

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US views Chinese imports as weakening ‘maximum pressure’

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China importing an estimated 150,000-200,000 b/d of Iranian crude

The US will sanction China if it continues to import Iranian crude in violation of American sanctions, a US Department of State spokeswoman warned Thursday.

“We’re going to zero [exports of Iranian crude] and … countries that don’t abide by US sanctions will face repercussions for not abiding by US sanctions,” Morgan Ortagus, the spokeswoman, said during a briefing Thursday. “That goes for China or any other country in the world. We expect all countries to abide by US sanctions.”

The US, which re-imposed oil sanctions on Iran in November, allowed sanctions waivers given to Iran’s biggest crude and condensate buyers to expire in early May.

US officials are wrestling with how to stop China from importing Iranian crude without sanctioning a major Chinese bank, due to the impact such sanctions may have on the global economy.

Administration officials believe the push for “maximum pressure” on Iran is being weakened by ongoing crude flows between Iran and China.

China continues to import about 150,000 b/d to 220,000 b/d of Iranian crude, much of it in the form of debt repayment, according to Sara Vakhshouri, president of SVB Energy International.

Iranian crude and condensate exports, which averaged about 1.7 million b/d in March, fell to about 1 million b/d in April and an estimated 800,0000 b/d in May, according to data from cFlow, S&P Global Platts trade flow software, and shipping sources. The majority of those flows in May were to China, Turkey and Syria, according to these sources.

S&P Global Platts Analytics forecasts Iranian exports will average 450,000 b/d in the second half of 2019.

— Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

— Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com