Iran leadership shrugs off US oil sanctions, pledges response

Iran's supreme leader says the US plan to cap the flow of his country's oil will lead nowhere, pledging a "response to the US hostility."

al-monitor Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the death anniversary of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2017.  Photo by TIMA via REUTERS.

Apr 24, 2019

"Their efforts will end nowhere. We are able to export as much oil as we need and wish," Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said two days after the United States announced that sanctions waivers granted to eight countries on the list of Iran's crude customers will not be extended.

"They need to understand that this hostility [will] not go unanswered," Khamenei warned, adding, "The Iranian nation will never remain silent in the face of their enmity." In his April 24 address on the occasion of Iran's Labor Week, Khamenei also suggested that the oil ban was a blessing in disguise, as it serves Iran's good by making its economy "less dependent upon crude sales."

In yet a harsher tone, moderate President Hassan Rouhani voiced equal defiance during a Cabinet meeting in Tehran the same day. While admitting that the US pressure may "cause problems in [Iranians'] everyday lives," Rouhani underlined the importance of "people's resistance" as the only way out. The Iranian president, who has been pursuing a policy of open engagement with the West, expressed disappointment at the current US administration's approach toward Tehran. "Talks with a knife-wielder who claims to favor negotiations but uses force and lies will bear no fruit," Rouhani asserted, adding, "We will not hold talks on the basis of a knife-wielder's attitude. Accepting such negotiations is tantamount to humiliation and surrender."

Still, the Iranian president did not fully rule out rapprochement with the arch-foe on the condition that "they [Americans] express apologies for their illegal moves, observe mutual respect and … express willingness to resolve differences based on logic and reasoning."

Regardless of their leanings, Iran's political elites are united in their stance that the United States has enjoyed backing from its regional allies, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to advance its anti-Iran agenda. The Iranian president criticized both countries for lining up behind Washington. According to Rouhani, Iran is maintaining friendly ties with all its neighbors except for those two, which, he said, need to think about their actions. "Saudi Arabia and the UAE should know that they owe their existence today to a wise decision by the Islamic Republic." He was referring to a claimed political development in the early 1990s, when Tehran "repeatedly rejected requests of cooperation" from former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was aspiring to occupy not only Kuwait but also Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Qatar. "If the Islamic Republic had decided otherwise back then, perhaps there would be no sign of Saudi Arabia and the UAE today."

Kayhan, a daily that represents Iran's most hard-line political forces, also downplayed the US oil sanctions, noting that "Saudi Arabia and other US allies are incapable of making up for any plunge in Iran's oil deliveries." The paper had warned in an earlier issue that the US measure will bounce back on Washington. On April 23, oil prices hovered above $74 per barrel, the highest level since last November.

As prices were rising, Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh told Iranian parliament that Washington was "politicizing oil" and using it as a "weapon," but he affirmed that "the US dream of zeroing out Iran's oil exports will never come true." He called on the lawmakers to join hands so that the nation "could leave behind these critical circumstances."

Citing official statistics, some also believe that the oil sanctions will be of little impact as Iran has been significantly lowering its reliance on oil in recent years. According to those figures, Iran's latest budget plan is based on only 30% of revenues stemming from oil exports.

Yet there were still outcries of concern, particularly with regard to the anticipated impacts of the oil sanctions upon ordinary Iranians. "Given Iran's dependence on oil, any strains on crude sales will definitely be a threat to the nation's livelihood." Pro-Reform paper Hamdeli warned that "if prompt measures are not adopted or a solution to circumvent the sanctions is not worked out, the economic situation will only turn more unpredictable, to say the least."

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