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The Trump administration will reimpose sanctions on sales of Iranian oil on Monday. The move means countries and companies that deal with Iranian energy, shipping and banking sectors could be cut off from business with the U.S. The administration hopes that will pressure Iran to negotiate a better nuclear deal and dramatically change its behavior. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Administration officials say they will give eight governments a temporary reprieve from U.S. sanctions as long as they wean themselves off Iranian oil. But in a conference call, they made clear they plan to be tough. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the goal is to get Iran to behave like a normal country and a democracy.
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MIKE POMPEO: And we are working towards allowing the Iranian people to have the opportunity to have a government they want, a government that doesn't take wealth from their country and spend it on malign activity around the world.
KELEMEN: By that he means Iran's missile programs and support for proxy militias. But the State Department has also been highlighting human rights abuses and corruption inside Iran in what appears to be a bid to get Iranians to rise up against their government. Amy Hawthorne, who's with a research and advocacy group called the Project on Middle East Democracy, sees contradictions in the U.S. approach. She reads one recent tweet from U.S. officials about things that could land you in an Iranian prison.
AMY HAWTHORNE: Defending prisoners, attending a protest, posting your thoughts on social media, questioning the regime's foreign policy.
KELEMEN: All true, she says. But this tweet was sent by the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates, highlighting America's selective approach to human rights.
HAWTHORNE: These are all things that people in the Emirates have been imprisoned for, both Emirati citizens and foreigners.
KELEMEN: Hawthorne says the U.S. has never been consistent on democracy promotion.
HAWTHORNE: In the case of the Trump administration, the gap between the kind of relentless critical messaging on Iran's human rights abuses and the general silence, lack of criticism of those same problems inside authoritarian Arab ally countries is really, really notable.
KELEMEN: And Hawthorne believes that weakens the U.S. argument. The murder of a Washington Post columnist in the Saudi consulate and a devastating Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen also undermine the U.S. effort to stay focused on Iran's abuses, though that doesn't seem to deter Brian Hook, who runs the State Department's Iran Action Group.
BRIAN HOOK: Saudi Arabia has been very helpful to ensure an adequately supplied oil market during this period where we have seen dramatic reductions in the import of Iranian crude as part of our maximum economic pressure campaign.
KELEMEN: Hook says the U.S. backs the Iranian people who seek a government that doesn't steal them blind. Hadi Ghaemi, director of the U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, warns that U.S. sanctions could hurt average Iranians. And he points out that the Trump administration still bans Iranians, including victims of the regime, from getting U.S. visas.
HADI GHAEMI: Unfortunately, when we look at the broader policies such as the travel ban and the incoming sanctions, particularly with regard to humanitarian such as essential food items and medicine, this administration is really not giving the message to the broader Iranian people that it has their interests in mind.
KELEMEN: Administration officials say humanitarian goods are exempt from U.S. sanctions. But with the banking restrictions going back into force Monday, it may be difficult for even legitimate business with Iran. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.