Wary that Chinese oil companies could be undermining new US sanctions against Iran, the chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee said he would push US President Barack Obama’s administration to investigate.
To try to get Iran to drop its nuclear work, the US Congress passed sanctions that were signed into law in July targeting financial services and Iran’s energy sector, hitting Iran’s ability to import gasoline and secure foreign investment.
US Representative Howard Berman told the Reuters Washington Summit on Monday that he and the top Republican on the foreign affairs committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, will meet administration officials soon over concerns foreign oil companies, some of which have US subsidiaries, are violating the new law.
“China is first and foremost on my mind here,” said Berman, one of the authors of the sanctions law, of potential violators.
In addition to the US measures, new sanctions have been imposed on Iran by the UN and the EU this year to try and force Tehran to halt sensitive nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at bomb-making.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, primarily to generate electricity.
The US Department of Treasury said Iran was smarting from the new sanctions. Iran’s leadership had been caught off guard as pressure on its economy and banking sector mounted, said Stuart Levey, US undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Levey, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Iran was effectively unable to access financial services from reputable international banks and “is increasingly unable to conduct major transactions in dollars or euros.”
Berman told reporters, however, that he did not know in the long run whether the measures would disabuse Iran of its nuclear ambitions.
He said other sanctions that could be targeted at countries, instead of merely companies, doing business with Iran, were already being discussed in the US if the latest measures do not have their intended effect.
Berman would not name Chinese companies that might be in violation of the law, but he said some had US subsidiaries.
“The thing we’ve always been nervous about was the extent to which there would be backfilling by, particularly China ... At least as far as I know as of right now, I don’t see much evidence that they have really jumped into the breach yet,” he said.
It would be easier for Washington to impose sanctions on Chinese companies that have units in the US.
“I’m unaware of specific actions the Chinese have taken since we passed this that are sanctionable, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t taken place, I’m just unaware of it. That’s what I want to find out about,” Berman said.
A US think tank last week released a report identifying 10 major Chinese energy companies still doing business with Iran, including China National Offshore Oil Co, China National Petroleum Co, China Petroleum & Chemical Corp, and Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp.