Pompeo announces ‘countdown’ clock as Iran weapons embargo ends in 2020

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned against ending an arms embargo on Iran, likening every day until the deal’s October 2020 expiration as a “#CountdownToTerror.”

The US imposed sanctions Thursday against China’s military for its purchases of Russian military equipment in a move US officials said is meant to punish Moscow for its “malign activities,” including attacks on American elections.

The push to extend the ban on weapons sales to Tehran comes amid increasing efforts by Washington to restrict Iran’s oil exports. Since the decision by US President Donald Trump in 2018 to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, Washington has attempted to use what it calls “maximum pressure” to change Iran’s behavior and limit its nuclear ambitions.

“Time is drawing short to continue this activity of restricting Iran’s capacity to foment its terror regime. The international community will have plenty of time to see how long it has until Iran is unshackled to create new turmoil, and figure out what it must do to prevent this from happening,” Pompeo said Tuesday, during an address at the United Nations.

Also on Tuesday, the State Department released what Pompeo termed a “#CountdownToTerror clock” tracking the time until the arms embargo and a travel ban on Qasem Soleimani expire next year. Soleimani commands Iran’s Quds force, which is responsible for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ overseas activities.

The arms embargo covers all weapons sales and “related material” to Iran. It was put in place by the UN and is set to be lifted five years after the adoption of the nuclear deal.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Pompeo warned the international community against helping ships that are believed to be carrying illicit crude oil from Iran in breach of US sanctions.

Pompeo’s comments followed reports that an Iranian tanker called the Bonita Queen was headed to Syria to deliver crude oil.

“We’ve made clear anyone who touches it, anyone who supports it, anyone who allows a ship to dock, is at risk of receiving sanctions from the United States of America. So if that ship again heads to Syria, we’ll take every action we can consistent with those sanctions to prevent them,” Pompeo said.

A source at the company Tanker Tracker, which tracks top oil exports based on satellite technology, said that the Bonita Queen was sailing toward Syria carrying about 600,000 barrels of oil. The source said Syria illegally receives about 3 million barrels of crude oil a month shipped from abroad.

The Bonita Queen does not fly the Iranian flag, but it is managed by the same company as a tanker now called the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1.

The Adrian Darya 1 was impounded last month by the UK in Gibraltar on suspicion that it was attempting to carry oil to Syria, in breach of European Union sanctions. The ship was released Sunday, shortly after the United States issued a warrant for its seizure Friday in what appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to stop the tanker.

Iran has maintained that it is not seeking a confrontation and the US actions are tantamount to bullying.

“Iran is not interested in confrontation. We were not the ones who walked away from a carefully negotiated agreement, an agreement that was not exactly what we wanted and certainly not exactly what the US wanted, or Europeans wanted or for that matter not exactly what China and Russia wanted,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday, referring to the nuclear deal.

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