July 3, 2018
DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said regional oil exports may be threatened if the United States tries to pressure its allies to stop buying Iranian crude oil, his website reported on Tuesday.
He did not elaborate, and his comments could be open to interpretation. However, they could be seen as a tacit threat to interfere with the shipping of Iran’s neighbors. Iranian officials in the past have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action against Iran.
“The Americans have claimed they want to completely stop Iran’s oil exports. They don’t understand the meaning of this statement, because it has no meaning for Iranian oil not to be exported, while the region’s oil is exported,” Rouhani said late on Monday during a visit to Switzerland, the website president.ir reported.
Rouhani’s comments come as Iran is planning to hold a meeting later this week with the foreign ministers of the five global powers that are still party to a 2015 deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The United States pulled out of that deal in May and says it now intends to impose tougher sanctions. It has since told countries they must cut all imports of Iranian oil from November and Washington is unlikely to offer any exemptions, a senior State Department official said last Tuesday.
“If you (Americans) can, do this and see its result,” Rouhani was quoted as saying to a gathering of Iranians living in Switzerland.
Tehran said its foreign minister would meet counterparts from U.S. allies Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China, in Vienna on Friday to discuss ways of maintaining the nuclear deal.
The five other powers have all said they still support the deal despite the U.S. decision to withdraw, and Iran has asked the European countries to come up with a new economic package to offset the U.S. sanctions and preserve the accord.
“At the meeting, which will be held at the request of Iran, foreign ministers of Iran and five world powers will discuss a proposed European package and measures to protect the agreement,” Iranian state news agency IRNA reported on Tuesday.
Since President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw in May, calling the agreement deeply flawed, European states have been scrambling to ensure Iran gets enough economic benefits to persuade it to maintain the nuclear curbs required in the deal.
But so far it has proven difficult to offset the impact of continued U.S. sanctions, with European firms reluctant to risk far-reaching U.S. financial penalties to do business in Iran.
Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, exports about 2 million barrels of crude oil per day.
The White House said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had promised Trump that he can raise oil production if needed, and that Riyadh has 2 million barrels per day of spare capacity.
Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Larry King and Peter Graff