The U.S. exempted China from penalties for doing business with Tehran as the latest set of U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's oil exports took effect on Thursday.
The State Department, which had determined that China had significantly reduced its purchases of Iranian crude, had previously exempted 19 other countries, all traditional purchasers of Iranian crude. That left China, the biggest buyer of Iranian oil, potentially shut out of doing business with the U.S.
The Obama administration determined that China met the requirements because its purchases of Iranian crude fell about 25% in the first five months of the year. The exemption lasts for six months.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the reductions of purchases of Iranian oil by countries such as Japan, South Korea and Spain 'are a clear demonstration to Iran's government that Iran's continued violation of its international nuclear obligations carries an enormous economic cost.' The U.S. and others say Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons development, a charge Tehran denies.
The Obama administration estimates that Iran is now exporting about 1 million barrels a day less than it did last year, costing Tehran about $8 billion per quarter.
China's reduction in oil imports took place in the first few months of 2012─because of a pricing dispute between Beijing and Tehran, rather than compliance with U.S. sanctions. In May, Chinese imports of Iranian oil jumped 39% from April, to more than 500,000 barrels per day─roughly the same level of imports as last year.
Beijing has opposed the latest round of U.S. sanctions, which ban companies that deal with Iran's central bank from doing business in the U.S. Chinese officials said this month that purchases of Iranian oil are 'legitimate.'
Obama administration officials said they didn't 'want to speculate' on the reasons for the first-half decline, but said 'it's clearly there.' They added that for 2012 as a whole, Chinese imports of Iranian oil will be at a lower level than in 2011.
The U.S. sanctions, part of a bill signed into law late last year, are designed to ratchet up economic pressure on Iran in a bid to convince the country to come clean about its nuclear program. Iran says its pursuit of nuclear technology is for civilian purposes.
A separate oil embargo by the European Union will go into effect on Sunday. Since the embargo was announced earlier this year, European purchasers of Iranian crude have found alternative suppliers. Additionally, some aspects of the EU embargo─such as prohibiting insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil─have convinced non-European countries such as South Korea to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Some House Republicans were upset that China was granted an exemption. 'Today the administration has granted a free pass to Iran's biggest enabler, China, which purchases more Iranian crude than any other country,' said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement. 'If the administration is willing to give China, a country that has aided the Iranian regime's efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities, a free pass, who is it willing to sanction?'
美国国会一些共和党众议员对于中国获得豁免权感到不满。众议院外交事务委员会(House Foreign Affairs Committee)主席、来自佛罗里达州的共和党众议员罗斯-莱赫蒂宁(Ileana Ros-Lehtinen)在一份声明中说，今天，政府给了伊朗最大的纵容者──中国一个免费通行证，中国从伊朗购买的原油在数量上超过其他任何一个国家。他说，如果政府把免费通行证发给中国这样一个为伊朗政权获得核技术提供帮助的国家，那美国政府到底想要制裁谁呢？