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US calls on European allies to take harsh line against Iran

The US appeal to EU leaders comes as some of Tehran's biggest oil customers appear to be succumbing to the US pressure.

Mike Pompeo

US Secretary of State has called on European allies to take a harsher stance against Iran, which he accused of violating UN resolutions, as some of Tehran's biggest oil customers appear to be succumbing to the US pressure.

Mike Pompeo sent out two tweets on Thursday in which accused the country of violating UN Security Council resolutions and sending weapons across the Middle East.

He called on European leaders to follow the US in increasing economic pressure on the country.

"We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism & proxy wars. There’s no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence & instability in one of our countries next," Pompeo wrote in the tweet.

Iran has been accused of involvement in proxy wars in the region, particularly in Syria and Yemen, where it has backed President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels respectively.

Withdrawal from nuclear deal

Since May, when Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and imposed new sanctions on Iran, the US has increased its hostile rhetoric towards Iran.

Trump on Thursday said that Iran has started to treat the US with "much more respect" after new sanctions were put in place.

"They're treating us with much more respect right now than they did in the past and I know they're having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing," Trump said at a news conference in Brussels after attending a contentious NATO summit.

"But I will tell you this, at a certain point, they're going to call me and they're going to say 'Let's make a deal,' and we'll make a deal.′ But they're feeling a lot of pain right now".

The US president unilaterally pulled out of the deal signed in 2015 with six world powers - the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.

As per the deal, Iran was expected to scale back its uranium enrichment programme and promised not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

Following the withdrawal, the EU, Britain, France and Germany have repeatedly said they reaffirmed their support "to the continued full and effective implementation of the JCPOA by all sides". 

READ MORE: Understanding the Iran deal: What, why and the next steps

However, Trump has since urged countries that trade with Iran to find alternate suppliers or be subjected to sanctions too.

Last week, the US said that the goal of was to get as many countries as possible down to zero Iranian oil imports.

"Our goal is to increase pressure on the Iranian regime by reducing to zero its revenue on crude oil sales," State Department Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook.

Fearing these sanctions, India, Iran's second biggest importer of oil after China, has since started scaling down its reliance on Iranian energy.

In June, oil imports from Iran to India went from more than 705,000 barrels down to almost 593,000 barrels per day, a decrease of 16 percent, according to Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, oil imports from the US have steadily been climbing this year. In the first six months of this year, the amount of oil imported from the US is almost double that of the whole of 2017, Times of India reported.

New markets

To make up for losses suffered as a result of the US sanctions, Iran is looking at other countries as potential export partners.

On Wednesday, Iran and Russia announced a deal up to $50bn in Iran's oil sector.

Ahead of the meeting between Russia and Iran, an Iranian foreign office spokesman said that the visit was in line with Tehran's diplomatic outreach after the US pulled out of the nuclear deal.

"After Donald Trump's strategic mistake to exit the multilateral and international accord, the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic of Iran decided to dispatch a number of its special representatives to other countries," Mehr news agency quoted Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi before the meeting in Moscow. 

According to the same report, Russian imports from Iran have increased significantly in the four months of 2018, up 36 percent from the year before.

Both Iran and Russia - who have been militarily involved in Syria - expect trade between the countries to increase even more in the coming years. 

Responding to the US sanctions and threats, Iranian officials have also threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most important oil transit points in the world.

The strait is not only used by Iranian ships, but also by Gulf countries who rely on safe passage through the narrow chokepoint to export their oil and gas.

Following the remarks by Iran, the US military promised to keep Gulf waterways open to oil tankers.

Last week, Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military's Central Command, told the Associated Press news agency on Wednesday that US sailors and its regional allies "stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows".

Strait of Hormuz

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