According to sources who spoke to The Daily Wire from both inside and outside the administration, the Trump administration will not implement any policy that allows countries to import Iranian oil — thus apparently closing the door on a proposal being circulated among State Department hands that would have allowed China to use an obscure legal loophole to avoid U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil imports.
Last Wednesday, Eliana Johnson of Politico reported a very interesting scoop: "The State Department is seriously considering using an Obama-era loophole to allow China to import oil from Iran," which would "violat[e] the Trump administration’s pledge to bring Iranian oil exports to zero." Specifically, Johnson cited "three U.S. officials" who claimed that the U.S. is considering "granting China a waiver to a 2012 law [the Iran Freedom and Counterproliferation Act] intended to kneecap the Iranian oil industry." The proposal would have effectively allowed China to avoid paying directly for Iranian oil while nonetheless still acquiring it.
For close observers of the Trump administration's foreign policy and national security apparatus, this might have seemed more than a little strange. Why would this administration, which famously removed the U.S. from the harrowing capitulation to fundamentalist jihadist evil that was President Barack Obama's Iran nuclear deal and has infamous Iran hawk John Bolton as its national security advisor, undercut the thrust of its own hardline Iran oil waivers policy by granting an obscure legal loophole to the U.S.'s number one 21st century geopolitical threat?
To be sure, Politico almost assuredly did not get the story wrong. Rather, leakers in the famously Arabist/anti-Israel State Department bureaucracy were likely candid about internal deliberations in Foggy Bottom.
But reading Johnson's scoop, one is forced to ponder the distinct possibility that the State Department could be wildly out of line with administration officials in and around the White House national security apparatus. Sure enough, a senior Trump administration official contacted by The Daily Wire categorically ruled out implementation of any proposal that would grant the Chinese such a waiver for Iranian oil imports.
"There will be no waivers issued to any country for the import of Iranian oil, in accordance with the President’s direction," the senior administration official stated. "Importing Iranian oil is a sanctionable activity under U.S. law. U.S. secondary sanctions will be fully enforced."
This is what a brutal inter-agency fight looks like. Hawkish Iran hardliners in the administration are battling — quite publicly now, as of this writing's publication — with dovish State Department mandarins.
Contacted by The Daily Wire, a U.S. official familiar with the inter-agency Trump administration battle over Iranian oil waivers put it bluntly: "The president is under enormous pressure to give Iran a face-saving off-ramp and look the other way at sanctions busting. The Europeans and their friends inside the administration are selling him the delusion that the ayatollah is ready to make a deal, if only he'll bribe Iran with a few hundred million dollars. It hasn't worked yet. They're still trying."
This will be a fascinating inter-agency fight to watch unfold. Iran hawks have a very clear rooting interest — and it is surely not with the State Department. Suffice it to say there is no world whatsoever in which China ought to be granted any waivers at all for importing Iranian oil.