By Edward Wong and Clifford Krauss
April 15, 2019

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has reached a critical juncture in its efforts to tighten United States oil sanctions against Iran and Venezuela.

By pressuring China and India to end or sharply reduce oil purchases from Iran and Venezuela, American officials are seeking to cut off a key economic lifeline for what the administration considers to be two rogue nations that threaten the stability of the Middle East and Latin America.

But they must do that without roiling global markets, further straining relations with China and India or raising gasoline prices in the United States.

The dilemma has led to a fierce debate within the Trump administration, which is set to decide by May 2 whether to extend waivers allowing China, India and three other nations to buy Iranian oil. A halt of oil shipments would constrict global oil supplies and increase costs at a time when much of the world economy is slowing.
“If you want to keep gasoline prices low, it doesn’t seem like the best strategy is to put maximum pressure both on Venezuelan and Iranian exports,” said Helima Croft, the global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets and a former C.I.A. energy analyst.

With 2020 elections looming, President Trump is keen to tamp down gasoline prices, especially as summer approaches, when energy use surges and Americans take to the road. Since mid-February, retail gas prices have risen and the global benchmark price for oil has surpassed $70 a barrel, about what it was before Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear agreement with Iran last May.

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