Two days after the United States announced the elimination of exemptions for buying Iranian oil, announced April 22, senior Iranian officials finally began to react on Wednesday, while Iranians on social media are debating the expected impact on the country.
Both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani sounded defiant in the face of the U.S. decision to stop exemptions for allies to import Iranian oil. Khameni said Iran will sell oil as much as it wants, while Rouhani said U.S. "apology" is a precondition to any negotiations.
But Iran’s neighbors and major players on the international stage had mixed reactions to the American decision to pile up pressure on Tehran.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted his opposition to the United States' decision, while "mentioning" U.S. State Department and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "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," he wrote.
Cavusoglu's tweet was retweeted over 500 times and liked by more than 1400 users.
Earlier on Tuesday, the European Union and China criticized the U.S. decision to scrap exemptions, which allowed limited oil purchases by five friendly countries.
Meanwhile, Saudi channel Al-Arabiya, quoted senior U.S. State Department official Brian Hook on its website as having said that the United States has denied the Iranian regime over $10 billion in revenue and expect that figure to increase dramatically.
Speaking on the impact of the waiver on regional developments, he said, “What we are doing is making it harder for Hezbollah to meet payroll, because 70% of Hezbollah’s revenue comes from the Iranian regime. Historically Iran gives Hezbollah $700 million a year, that’s 70% of their budget."
Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf has also told the media that eliminating the waivers will tie up Iran's hands for helping terror groups in the region and destabilizing other countries.
Hook, who is the United States' Special Representative for Iran, also told Al Arabiya that countries can either work with U.S. or Iran, but not both.
Elsewhere in the interview, Hook said, "We would like to have a different relationship with Iran. We tried that in the Obama administration when we gave an enormous sanctions relief, and the Iranian regime took that money and they spent it like they always do. They spent it on supporting their satellites and proxies around the Middle East and that is not good," adding that "they’re always on the other side of the battlefield from us, or our interests, or the interests of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates." The two countries have welcomed the end to sanction waivers.
Nevertheless, other media outlets quoted Hook as having told Qatari network Al Jazeera that Iran can return to the negotiating table anytime.
The only official reaction from Iran as of late Tuesday came from Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh who said the United States cannot reduce Iran's oil exports to nil, and that Tehran will do its best to defeat the sanctions, semi-official news agency ISNA quoted him as saying.
Iranians on social media tweeted a mixture of positive and negative reactions. One Twitter user said Iranian officials can only exert pressure on their helpless people, but they cannot do anything in response to the U.S. move to bring oil exports to zero.
Pro-reform journalist Omid Tousheh used an Islamic metaphor to say that the development will dramatically and adversely affect Iran's economy.
Mohammad Padash insisted that America cannot totally eliminate Iran's oil export while China continues to import 700,000 barrels per day of Iran's oil.
Hardline journalist Farshad Mehdipour tweeted that "The threat to close the Strait of Hormuz is still in place and maintained that U.S. cannot bring Iran's oil exports down to zero.
In the meantime, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zartif has accompanied Tehran's new UN Envoy Majid Takhtravanchi in his trip to New York on Tuesday. It is possible that Zarif's visit to New York for a conference on diplomacy, is a way of making himself available for possible contacts with U.S. or other diplomats. This can be true only if he has the backing of Iran's hardline anti-US Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.