A top Iranian naval commander threatened on Monday to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, in response to the US decision to end sanction waivers on Iranian oil imports, as Tehran fumed over the “illegal” move.
“If we are banned from using it, we will close it,” Gen. Ali Reza Tangsiri, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s navy, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
The Trump administration said Monday that it would no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, stepping up pressure on Iran in a move that primarily affects the five remaining major importers: China, India, and US treaty allies: Japan, South Korea, and Turkey.
US President Donald Trump made the decision as part of the administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran that aims to eliminate all of its revenue from oil exports that the US says funds destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East and beyond.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi dismissed the US announcement Monday, arguing that American sanctions and their waivers were “worthless.”
“Given the fact that the sanctions are in principle illegal, the Islamic Republic of Iran basically considers the granted waivers for sanctions as worthless,” the official state Mehr news agency quoted him as having said.
An unnamed source in Iran’s oil ministry told the semi-official Tasnim news agency that “whether the waivers continue or not, Iran’s oil exports will not be zero under any circumstances unless Iranian authorities decide to stop oil exports … and this is not relevant now.”
“We have years of experience in neutralizing efforts by enemies to strike blows against our country,” the source said, adding that Iran was prepared for the US decision.
Iran has in the past threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in reaction to US sanctions and other activity, raising tensions.
A US official said any move to close the key strait would be unacceptable, according to Reuters.
The strait is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and is crucial to global energy supplies, with about a third of all oil traded at sea passing through it.
“In case of any threat, we will have not even an iota of doubt to protect and defend the Iranian waters,” said Tangsiri, of the IRGC navy.
Iran regularly holds maneuvers in the strait, which at its narrowest point is 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide, in the waters between Iran and Oman.
Despite being so narrow and within the territorial waters of those two nations, the strait is viewed as an international transit route. American forces routinely travel through the area, despite sometimes tense encounters with Iranian forces.
Tensions have been high since US President Donald Trump’s May withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which saw sanctions lifted for Tehran limiting its uranium enrichment.
Washington reimposed strict economic sanctions on Iran, while the other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany are all trying to maintain the pact.
The sanctions have impacted Iran’s economy, contributing to rising inflation and fall in the rial, the Iranian currency.
Other countries also reacted angrily to Washington’s decision to end the waiver program.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu blasted the Trump administration’s announcement in a tweet, saying the move would “not serve regional peace and stability, yet will harm Iranian people.”
The #US decision to end sanctions waivers on #Iran oil imports will not serve regional peace and stability, yet will harm Iranian people. #Turkey rejects unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbors. @StateDept @SecPompeo
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) April 22, 2019
China, one of Iran’s largest customers, also slammed the step, calling it more evidence of US “unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction.” China, which relies on imports for about half of its oil, could present the toughest diplomatic challenge for the US in trying to enforce its sanctions.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, chief of the Hezbollah group supported by Iran, denounced the US decision in a speech Monday.
“We are facing arrogance and aggression by a state that is hurting 80 million people in Iran. The great satan is imposing sanctions against Iran, Syria, Russia and China. This administration is behaving like in a jungle, while the United States itself is supporting terrorism.”
Defending the move, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “The goal remains simply: To deprive the outlaw regime of the funds that it has used to destabilize the Middle East for decades and incentivize Iran to behave like a normal country.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the administration for further tightening sanctions enforcement on Iran, which the Jewish state regards as an existential threat. He said the move “is of great importance for increasing pressure on the Iranian terrorist regime.”