US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of the group on Thursday, saying that the initiative would be “directing, reviewing and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity.”
He named senior policy adviser Brian Hook to lead the group.
The move came as the US administration prepared to increase economic pressure on Iran by restoring sanctions against Tehran following its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.
The announcement was not a surprise. Hook, who has pushed for tough action against Iran, has been leading the department’s talks with allies in Europe and Asia to persuade them to support US sanctions and cut off Iran’s oil supplies as of November.
Hook, who was a close adviser to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, worked with US national security advisor John Bolton on Iran sanctions while Bolton was the US ambassador to the United Nations under Republican President George W. Bush.
Asked by reporters about the group’s plan for dealing with China on Thursday, Brian Hook said the US is prepared to impose sanctions on all countries that continue to buy Iran’s oil – including China – after Washington starts restoring bans on the Islamic Republic’s energy sector, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“The United States certainly hopes for full compliance by all nations in terms of not risking the threat of US secondary sanctions if they continue with those transactions,” he said.
“We are prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other governments that continue this sort of trade with Iran,” Hook noted.
He said the US would issue waivers from sanctions only to countries that had made efforts to reduce their oil purchases from Iran.
US President Donald Trump announced in May the United States was withdrawing from an Iran nuclear deal sealed in 2015 between Tehran and six world powers.
Washington reinstated a series of unilateral sanctions against Iran in early August and would reimpose a second batch in November which would primarily be meant to undermine Tehran’s oil exports.
Iran’s top oil customer Beijing has thus far been defiant to Washington’s call to stop buying Iranian oil, saying commercial cooperation between the two sides did not harm other countries' interests and therefore had to be protected from sanctions.
In a statement earlier this month, China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing’s business ties with Tehran were “reasonable” and did not breach UN resolutions.
Iran and other signatories including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have been working to find a way to salvage the nuclear agreement, even as the United States has started reimposing some sanctions on Iran.
Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.