New US sanctions push Iran east and south

US Secretary of State Mike PompeioFurther US sanctions were today expected to be slapped on more than two dozen people and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear, missile and conventional arms programs in a move that will both put Washington at odds with its allies in the UN and accelerate Tehran’s efforts to strengthen ties with China and several African states. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday night that the US has officially triggered a ‘snapback’ provision within the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. That move, he said, will reimpose a set of harsh UN sanctions on Tehran that had been lifted as part of the Obama-era agreement. Many of the details of the new sanctions will be included in an executive order targeting those who buy or sell Iran ‘conventional arms’ and it could be construed to cover equipment such as the speed boats that Iran retrofits to harass vessels in international waters and conventional circuit boards that can be used in ballistic missile guidance systems.
Coming so soon after the US brokered deals to normalize trade relations  between both the UAE and Bahrain on one side and Israel on the other, the Trump administration’s decision to ramp up the pressure on Iran is inevitably being interpreted as part of a wider initiative to limit Iran’s influence in the Middle East, as well as to appeal to pro-Israel voters ahead of next month’s presidential elections; but it is also a clear warning that Washington is on the case  of anybody trading surreptitiously with Iran; as far as the US is concerned, reports that Iran will soon have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year and that it has resumed long-range missile cooperation with nuclear-armed North Korea means that it is justified in enforcing the range of sanctions previously agreed by the UN.
The imposition of new US sanctions will probably come as no surprise to Iran’s leaders, who are reported to be working on a ,comprehensive’ 25-year plan to become ‘important strategic partners’ with China. “Over the years, China has strengthened its foothold in Iran without trying to interfere in Iran’s political stability, security and independence,” Saeed Laylaz, a reformist analyst told the FT recently. “This distinguishes China from the US and even Russia, both of which tend to interfere in Iran’s domestic affairs.”
Iranian oil MalaysiaAn 18-page document seen by the newspaper suggests many areas of potential co-operation between the two countries, including the energy, petrochemicals, technology and military sectors as well as maritime projects. During the last Iranian calendar year, bilateral trade between the two countries topped $20bn (excluding goods reimported from elsewhere) making China Iran’s biggest trade partner. That figure does not necessarily represent the true extent of the Islamic Repulbic’s oil exports to China, however. There is strong evidence to suggest that Iran has recently smuggled as much as 1.6 million barrels of oil via Malaysia, disguised as ‘Indonesian oil’.
Partly prompted by the US sanctions,Tehran is now also making a concerted effort to boost exports to Africa. Early next month, Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization (TPO) is to open an investigation into ways of boosting the export of construction materials and equipment to the continent in line with its wider strategy of opening up new export markets. Iran already exports about $1bn worth of goods and service directly and indirectly to Africa. Goods and commodities include bitumen, iron and steel products, foodstuff, construction materials, carpets flooring, and raisins ,while the technical and engineering services range from the construction of refineries, cooperation and consultation in power plant construction, water supply and reservoirs, tunnels, bridges and roads. The top ten recipient countries are Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Somalia, Morocco, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, and Libya.