EU efforts to bypass US sanctions on Iran may be ineffective: John Bolton

Key Points
  • European efforts aimed at evading American penalties on Iran are unlikely to be effective, National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Tuesday.
  • Speaking to media in Singapore, the U.S. official said he was confident Washington's latest sanctions against Tehran would hurt the Iranian economy.
  • "We think the government is under real pressure and it's our intention to squeeze them very hard," Bolton said.
National Security Advisor John Bolton answers questions from reporters as he announces that the U.S. will withdraw from a treaty with Iran during a news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, October 3, 2018. 
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

A European initiative aimed at bypassing U.S. sanctions on Iran is unlikely to meaningfully help the Islamic Republic, according to White House National Security Advisor John Bolton.

"We think the government is under real pressure and it's our intention to squeeze them very hard," Bolton told media in Singapore on Tuesday, expressing confidence that Washington's latest measures against Iran would put significantly pressure on its economy. "As the British say, squeeze them until the pips squeak."

Several international corporations already decided to end their dealings with Tehran in May, when President Donald Trump announced that he would be re-imposing sanctions on Iran.

"The position of some European governments is different from the position of their businesses," he said, suggesting that European firms were unlikely to do business with the Islamic state even if the initiative was introduced.

The initiative — known as a "special purpose vehicle" — aims to facilitate payments related to Iran's exports and imports despite sanctions by the U.S. 

The bulk of European companies have more commercial links with the U.S. than with Iran, and it remains unclear how much impact the special purpose vehicle would have.

The Iran nuclear accord was implemented in January 2016. Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it removed international sanctions on the country in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. But when Trump abandoned the accord in May, European leaders scrambled to save the deal.

Bolton, a former U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, and Vice President Mike Pence are in Singapore this week for the ASEAN-U.S. Summit as well as the East Asia Summit. They will also be heading to Papua New Guinea for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum later this month.

Asian heavyweights such as Japan, China, India and South Korea will still be allowed to purchase Iranian crude, having been granted exemptions by Washington. But those exemptions are on a six-month basis so any trade flows between Iran and Asia will be temporary, Bolton said.

Washington will ensure sanctions are properly enforced, Bolton continued, adding that new sanctions aimed at tightening counter-terrorism could also be introduced. The U.S. has been in discussions with a number of European countries on that matter following allegations of an Iranian assassination attempt in Denmark, Bolton said.