Washington: US President Donald Trump has defended his decision to spare India and seven other major importers of Iranian oil from immediate penalties, saying it was done to keep the global oil prices down and avoid causing a “shock” to the market.

The US on Monday reimposed all penalties that had been lifted as part of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal as the Trump administration added nearly 700 targets, including 50 Iranian financial institutions, to a sanctions list.  It marked an intensifying effort to strangle Iran’s economy to pressure the regime to change its ways, especially to force Tehran to stop the ballistic missiles programme and abandon its nuclear ambitions if wants to seek a path to sanctions relief.

The crippling sanctions cover Iran’s banking and energy sectors and reinstate penalties for countries and companies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere that do not halt Iranian oil imports.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that India, China, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey were temporarily allowed to continue buying Iranian oil as they showed “significant reduction” in oil purchase from the world’s fifth-biggest producer.

“We have the toughest sanctions ever imposed. But on oil, we want to go a little bit slow because I don’t want to drive the oil prices in the world up,” Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington on Monday before leaving on a campaign trail for the mid-term polls being held on Tuesday.

He, however, emphasised that his effort to keep the oil prices down has nothing to do with Iran. When asked about his decision to give temporary exemptions to eight economies from the ban on Iranian oil imports, Trump said, “I’m not looking to be a great hero and bring it down to zero immediately. I could get the Iran oil down to zero immediately, but it would cause a shock to the market. I don’t want to lift oil prices.” “If you notice, oil prices are going down very substantially, despite the fact that already half of their capacity is gone. But I don’t want to do that,” he said.

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