Tuesday November 12, 2019
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US Hits Iran with New Sanctions; Petrochemicals Targeted

Washington is pressuring Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program

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US, Iran, Petrochemicals
FILE - A man walks past the Mahshahr petrochemical plant in Khuzestan province, southwest of Tehran, Iran. VOA

The United States on Friday imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s petrochemical industry, including its largest petrochemical holding group, over its financial support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Treasury Department said.

Washington is pressuring Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile program and for waging proxy wars in other Middle Eastern countries. The new measures follow a round of sanctions imposed last month that targeted the Islamic Republic’s export revenues from industrial metals.

Tensions between the two countries worsened last month when the Trump administration ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East, citing intelligence about possible Iranian preparations to attack U.S. forces or interests.

The Pentagon has also accused the IRGC of being directly responsible for May 12 attacks off the United Arab Emirates coast that damaged two Saudi tankers, an Emirati vessel and a Norwegian tanker.

US, Iran, Petrochemicals
The United States on Friday imposed new sanctions on Iran targeting the country’s petrochemical industry. Pixabay

Friday’s sanctions target Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC) for providing financial support for the economic arm of the IRGC, Iran’s elite military unit in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

The U.S. Treasury also designated the holding group’s network of 39 subsidiary petrochemical companies and foreign-based sales agents. PGPIC and its subsidiaries hold 40% of Iran’s petrochemical production capacity and are responsible for 50% of Iran’s petrochemical exports, it said.

“By targeting this network we intend to deny funding to key elements of Iran’s petrochemical sector that provide support to the IRGC,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The Treasury statement said Iran’s oil ministry last year awarded the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya, the IRGC’s economic and engineering arm, 10 projects in oil and petrochemical industries worth $22 billion, four times the official budget of the IRGC.

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President Donald Trump last year pulled out of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions, saying it did not go far enough.

The Trump administration has since taken several unprecedented steps to squeeze Iran, such as demanding the world halt all imports of Iranian oil and designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, which Iran has cast as an American provocation.

U.S. law already punished U.S. persons who deal with the IRGC with up to 20 years in prison because of the group’s designation under the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list, a different sanctions program. (VOA)

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US Officials Identify ‘Strong Culprit’ in Vaping Illnesses

Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that a compound known as vitamin E acetate is a "very strong culprit"

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US, Vaping, Illnesses
FILE - A man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette, Oct. 18, 2019. VOA

U.S. health officials say they have found the likely cause of a mysterious illness in people who smoke e-cigarettes, describing the findings as a “breakthrough.” US.

Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that a compound known as vitamin E acetate is a “very strong culprit” in the search for the cause of the mysterious lung disease.

Schuchat, who is the CDC’s principal deputy director, said the compound was found in fluid samples taken from the lungs of 29 patients across the country who were diagnosed with the vaping illness.

“We are in a better place in terms of having one very strong culprit,” she said.

US, Vaping, Illnesses
File – In this Aug. 28, 2019, file photo, a man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette in Portland, Maine. VOA

Schuchat cautioned that more work needs to be done to confirm that vitamin E acetate causes lung damage when inhaled, and said there could still be other toxic substances in e-cigarettes that lead to lung disease.

More than 2,000 Americans who smoke e-cigarettes have gotten sick since March, and at least 40 of them have died.

Health officials say that vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, but that inhaling it can be harmful.

The compound is sometimes used as a thickener in vaping fluid, especially in black market vape cartridges and those containing THC — the component of marijuana that gets people high.

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E-cigarettes have been available in the United States for more than a decade. They work, in general, by using a battery to heat a liquid nicotine solution and turn it into an inhalable vapor.

While e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive, they have been considered safer than traditional cigarettes because they do not contain tar or many of the other substances in traditional cigarettes that make them deadly.

Advocates of e-cigarettes say they are a powerful tool to help adult smokers quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

However, critics say that e-cigarettes are making a new generation addicted to nicotine. They also point out that the long-term health consequences of vaping are not known, and say that e-cigarettes could contain other potentially harmful substances, including chemicals used for flavoring and traces of metals. (VOA)