WASHINGTON — The United States warned Tuesday that countries around the world must stop buying Iranian oil before November 4 or face a renewed round of American economic sanctions.
A senior State Department official warned foreign capitals “we’re not granting waivers” and described tightening the noose on Tehran as “one of our top national security priorities.”
Last month US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, re-imposing US sanctions that had been suspended in return for controls on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Now, Washington is stepping up pressure on other countries to follow suit, including European allies who begged him to stay in the accord and major Iranian customers like India, Japan and China.
European powers in particular have been attempting to negotiate exemptions for their firms, but the official confirmed that Trump intends to stick to his 180-day deadline, expiring November 4.
“I would be hesitant to say zero waivers ever,” he said, but added that the official position is: “No, we’re not granting waivers.”
The senior US official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, admitted that this would be unpopular.
“This is a challenge for them, this is not something that any country that imports oil from Iran … wants to do voluntarily because, you know, we’re asking them to make a policy change.
“China, India? Yes, certainly their companies will be subject to the same sanctions that everybody else is,” he said. “We will certainly be requesting that their oil imports go to zero.”
Iran has faced mounting economic woes since the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear accord.
On Tuesday angry protesters in Tehran held a second day of demonstrations over the country’s anemic economy as President Hassan Rouhani told the nation that it faces an “economic war” with the United States following America’s pullout from the deal.
While online videos showed demonstrators again confronting police on Tehran’s streets and alleyways, the protests looked far smaller than those on Monday, when security forces fired tear gas on crowds in front of parliament.
Rage persists over the plunging of the Iranian rial to 90,000 to the dollar — double the government rate of 42,000 rials to $1 — as people watch their savings dwindle and shopkeepers hold onto some goods, uncertain of their true value.
Similar economic protests roiled Iran and spread to some 75 cities and towns at the end of last year, becoming the largest demonstrations in the country since the months-long rallies following the 2009 disputed presidential election. The protests in late December and early January saw at least 25 people killed and nearly 5,000 arrested, but took place largely in Iran’s provinces rather than in the capital, Tehran.
These latest protests have hit Iranian commercial areas, including the sprawling, historic warrens of Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, the home of conservative merchants who backed the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It remains unclear who is leading these protests, though analysts say hard-liners wanting to challenge Rouhani likely sparked the demonstrations at the end of last year.
On Tuesday, witnesses described a noticeable presence of riot police on the capital’s streets. Official reports and comments also were slim in Iran’s state-controlled media, though Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said the “main provocateurs” of Monday’s protests were arrested. He did not elaborate on the number of people detained.
The state-run IRNA news agency euphemistically referred to one incident Tuesday in which the city’s metro line was temporarily shut down near the Grand Bazaar, saying it happened “because of some people gathered there.”
On Tuesday morning, Rouhani addressed a meeting of judges that included the head of the country’s judiciary and parliament. While a relative moderate within Iran’s theocratic government, Rouhani struck a hard line himself against America.
“We are fighting against the United States, it wants to make an economic war,” the president said. “The US cannot defeat our nation; our enemies are not able to force us to their knees.”
That’s a far cry from the optimism shared by Rouhani and other Iranians when the 2015 nuclear deal was enacted between Iran and six world powers, including America. Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
But that deal came under Barack Obama’s administration. Trump, who campaigned on a promise of tearing up the deal, pulled America out of the deal in May. The ensuing turmoil has seen international firms and oil companies back away from their own billion-dollar deals with Iran.
Rouhani’s own power within Iran’s government appears to be waning, with some openly calling for military officials to lead the country.
Iran also has suggested it could immediately ramp up its production of uranium in response to the US pullout, potentially escalating the very situation the nuclear deal sought to avoid — having an Iran with a stockpile of highly enriched uranium that it could use to build atomic bombs.
Tehran has long denied wanting to build nuclear weapons, despite fears from the West and the United Nations.
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, speaking at the same event as Rouhani, appeared to directly criticize his administration.
“The government hasn’t done enough to confront the economic problems,” the conservative politician said, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
The protests have seen unusual scenes of demonstrators chanting against continued Iranian spending of billions of dollars on regional proxy wars and support for terrorist groups, which many say has meant less investment in the struggling economy at home.
In recent years, Iran has provided financial aid to Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Shiite militias in Iraq. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Tehran has poured a reported $6 billion into propping up president Bashar Assad’s government.
Monday’s protests in Tehran and around the country — including economically hard-hit cities like Kermanshah in western Iran — included shouts of “Death to Palestine,” “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon” and “Leave Syria and think of us.” Chants of “We don’t want the ayatollahs” and “Death to the dictator” were also heard at some rallies.