Steven Mnuchin. Picture: REUTERS
Steven Mnuchin. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — The US wants to avoid disrupting global oil markets as it reimposes sanctions against Tehran, and in certain cases will consider waivers for countries that need more time to wind down their oil imports from Iran, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

"We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if people can’t do that overnight, we’ll consider exceptions," Mnuchin said on Friday, clarifying some US officials’ comments that there would be no exemptions.

Mnuchin was talking en route from Mexico where he was part of a high-level US delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet Mexico’s next president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The Trump administration is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November when the US reimposes sanctions against Tehran, after Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal agreed between Iran and six major powers, against the advice of allies in Europe and elsewhere.

Mnuchin said he would meet counterparts from developed and developing countries on the sidelines of a Group of 20 finance ministers’ meeting in Buenos Aires from July 19 to 22. US sanctions against Iran are likely to be raised in his talks.

"We’ve said very specifically, there’s no blanket waivers, there’s no grandfathering," Mnuchin said, "We want to be very careful in the wind-down around the energy markets to make sure that people have the time." He added: "The state department has the ability to issue waivers around significant reductions in the oil markets, that’s something that treasury and state will be doing."

Mnuchin said Washington had made clear to allies that it expected them to enforce the sanctions against Iran, "but if there are specific situations we’re open to listening".

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said at the weekend that Washington had rejected a French request for waivers for its companies operating in Iran.

Paris had singled out key areas where it expected exemptions or extended wind-down periods for French companies, including energy and banking.

The Trump administration has said there are more than 50 foreign companies that have withdrawn their business from Iran since Trump announced the US was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the US, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia.

Pompeo, also speaking on Friday, said he had discussed US plans to reimpose sanctions on Iran with "all but one" country. He did not name the country he had not yet consulted.

"What they have asked us to do is review how we get there and the timeline for that," he said, "and so I’m very confident they understand."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking in remarks carried live on state television on Saturday, said Washington was more isolated than ever over sanctions against Iran, even among its allies.