US begins to dismantle Iran nuclear deal sanctions relief

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday began dismantling the sanctions relief that was granted to Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal, a step that follows President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the international accord.

The Treasury Department announced it had revoked licenses that allowed U.S.-controlled foreign firms to export commercial aircraft parts to Iran as well as permitted Americans to trade in Iranian carpets, pistachios and caviar. It said businesses engaged in any such transactions have to wind down those operations by Aug. 6 or face penalties under U.S. sanctions. Another set of licenses covering other types of commerce, including oil purchases, will be revoked in coming weeks, with firms given until Nov. 4 to end those activities.

The step had been expected since May when Trump pulled the U.S. out of the landmark agreement under which Iran was given relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program. Trump said the accord, a signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was the worst deal ever negotiated by the United States because it gave Iran too much in return for too little. Trump also complained that the agreement did not cover Iran's non-nuclear malign behavior.

Other parties to the deal — Britain, China, Germany, France, Russia and the European Union — have criticized the U.S. withdrawal, which has left the agreement at risk of collapse. The Trump administration is stepping up efforts to isolate Iran and its faltering economy from international financial and trading systems.

On Tuesday, the administration said it was pushing foreign countries to cut their oil imports from Iran to zero by Nov. 4. Previously, the administration had said only that countries should make a "significant reduction" in their imports of Iranian oil or be subject to separate U.S. sanctions prohibiting all transactions between their central banks and Iran's central bank.

A senior State Department official said the administration is now telling European and Asian countries that the U.S. expects their imports to hit zero by the time the grace period ends. A U.S. team from the State Department and the National Security Council is currently in Europe delivering the message, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. The official added that the U.S. is working with other Middle Eastern countries to increase production so the global oil supply isn't harmed.

Some close U.S. allies are among the largest importers of Iranian crude oil, including India and South Korea. Japan and Turkey also import significant amounts of Iranian oil, according to statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Agency. The biggest importer of Iranian oil last year was China.

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Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal in May not March.

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