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Bolton firing shows failure of US’s Iran strategy says Tehran as more sparks fly over nuclear deal and oil standoffs

An advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to the September 10 announcement from US President Donald Trump that he had fired arch-hawk national security advisor John Bolton by saying it showed Washington’s “maximum pressure strategy” against Iran was a failure.

“The marginalisation and subsequent elimination of Bolton is not an accident but a decisive sign of the failure of the US maximum pressure strategy in the face of the constructive resistance of Iran,” Hesameddin Ashena tweeted.

There is still no sign that Iran will respond positively to Trump’s call for talks with the Islamic Republic’s leadership to resolve the nuclear deal dispute and discuss the ultra-heavy US sanctions regime designed to throttle the Iranian economy to force Tehran into signing a tougher accord. The latest line from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is that the US must drop its sanctions in return for an invitation to multilateral talks also involving France, Germany, the UK, Russia and China, five countries that, along with Iran, remained signed up to the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Maintaining its line that the major European powers are not complying with the nuclear deal—despite still being signatories—and are therefore not doing anything like enough to protect the Iranian economy from the US “economic war” and “economic terrorism”, Iran is accelerating its move towards the nuclear deal ‘exit door’, gradually breaching more and more accord terms designed to prevent it developing the capability of building a nuclear weapon. The Iranians last week said they had installed more advanced centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium. However, Tehran insists Iran has never had any intention of constructing a nuclear weapon.

In response to this, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on September 10 accused Tehran of not fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran's behaviour, he said, "raises questions about possible undeclared nuclear material or activities".

"The world won't fall for it," Pompeo said. "We will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon."

Pompeo, however, also told reporters it was possible that Trump could meet with Iranian Rouhani "with no preconditions" on the sidelines of the upcoming UN General Assembly gathering, which starts on September 23.

On September 9, IAEA acting director-general Cornel Feruta said he had informed Iranian officials during a recent visit to Tehran about the importance of "full and timely" cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors.

IAEA inspectors reportedly recently found traces of nuclear material at a warehouse identified by Israeli intelligence officials as an undeclared nuclear facility.

"I also stressed the need for Iran to respond promptly to agency questions related to the completeness of Iran's safeguards declarations," Feruta said.

The US, meanwhile, appears increasingly rattled at how much Iranian oil is making it to China despite its policy, announced in May, of using secondary sanctions in a drive to force crude exports from Iran down to zero.

Chinese oil companies such as Sinopec, CNOOC and others have managed to reduce their shipments of Iranian oil but it is unclear which Chinese government parties might still be buying Iranian oil, a senior US energy official was quoted as saying by Reuters on September 10.

Dan Brouillette, deputy secretary of the US Department of Energy, said in an interview that Iranian oil shipments will be monitored and Washington will consider “designating” or blacklisting any identified party who violates the sanctions.

“We are going to continue this ‘maximum pressure campaign’ because we want Iran to change,” Brouillette said. “If folks were identified, the Treasury is going to designate them. There are some questions about who [in China] is actually doing the buying ... whether it is the Chinese government that is doing the buying,” he said during a visit to Abu Dhabi. “Sinopec and CNOOC, their shipments have come way down,” he added.

September 10 also saw the UK accuse Iran of breaching assurances that it would not sell oil to Syria from an Iranian tanker released by authorities in Gibraltar on the condition that the 2.1m barrels it was carrying would not be sold to Bashar al-Assad regime in a transaction that would breach EU sanctions on Damascus.

Tehran acknowledged at the weekend that the oil had been sold, but did not identify the buyer. The reflagged tanker, Adrian Darya 1, previously known as Grace 1, was photographed off the coast of Syria.

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, summoned Hamid Baeidinejad, the Iranian ambassador to London, to ask why the assurances given to the Gibraltarian authorities had not been honoured.

British officials briefed UK media outlets that they were relatively certain from intelligence assessments that the oil was offloaded on to smaller boats.

Raab said: “Iran has shown complete disregard for its own assurances over Adrian Darya 1. This sale of oil to Assad’s brutal regime is part of a pattern of behaviour by the government of Iran designed to disrupt regional security.”