CBRN Assessment

Indian compliance with aggressive US sanctions on crude exports increases risk of Iran resuming nuclear programme

29 June 2018

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar remains closed on 26 June as a group of Iranian traders protests against worsening economic conditions. Source: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

  • This position marks a significant shift in US sanctions enforcement policy; during the 2012–15 sanctions period under former US president Barack Obama’s administration, the importers of Iranian crude oil qualified for waivers from US sanctions if they demonstrated “significant reductions” in their Iranian imports.
  • The aggressive US sanctions enforcement policy is intended to force Iran into accepting potentially permanent restrictions on its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes and ending its support for proxies, particularly Lebanon’s Hizbullah.
  • Increased financial pressure on Iran increases the risk of Iran resuming its nuclear programme and correspondingly of interstate war by miscalculation of the US threshold of tolerance for military conflict.


An unnamed US State Department official stated on 26 June that the United States is demanding that importers of Iranian crude oil cut their imports to “zero” by 4 November in order to avoid violating US sanctions.

In a US Department of State briefing on 26 June, the official added that the “predisposition” of the US is to refuse granting any waivers to the oil import sanctions, although he stated that the possibility of waivers “ever” being granted has not been ruled out. Despite this aggressive state objective, the United States will probably seek to cushion the impact on domestic gasoline (petrol) prices, with an unnamed State Department official telling Reuters on 28 June that the US is “prepared to work” on a case-by-case basis with countries reducing their imports. Nevertheless, the more aggressive approach adopted by the administration of President Donald Trump stands in stark contrast to the US policy during the 2012–15 sanctions period, under which importers of Iranian crude oil received waivers from US sanctions if they demonstrated “significant reductions” in their imports, then assessed at 18–20% every six months, with the percentages dropping over time.

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