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Khamenei backs threat to stop Gulf exports if oil sales halted

Supreme leader denounces US decision to withdraw from deal and calls negotiations with Washington an 'obvious mistake'.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has supported a suggestion by President Hassan Rouhani who hinted earlier this month that Tehran may block regional oil exports if its own sales are stopped following the US' withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Rouhani's apparent warning on July 3 to disrupt oil shipments from neighbouring countries came in reaction to looming US sanctions and efforts by the administration of President Donald Trump to force all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil.

Even though Rouhani did not mention the Strait of Hormuz, his comments were nonetheless seen as a threat to the narrow strategic passageway located between Iran and Oman, where at least 18.5m barrels of oil were transported every day in 2016, according to a US energy department report.

The strait is not only used by Iranian ships, but also by Gulf countries who rely on safe passage through the narrow chokepoint to export their oil and gas.

"Remarks by the president ... that 'if Iran's oil is not exported, no regional country's oil will be exported,' were important remarks that reflect the policy and the approach of [Iran's] system," Khamenei's official website quoted him as saying on Saturday.

He went on to describe Rouhani's remarks as "important", adding that they: reflect the policy and the approach of [Iran's] system".

The comments come as the US demands all countries end imports of Iranian oil by November 4 as part of its new policy towards Tehran after Washington unilaterally pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known colloquially as the Iran nuclear deal.

Under the landmark deal signed in Vienna, six world powers - the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union - offered Iran more than $110bn a year in sanctions relief and a return to the global economy in exchange for halting its drive for nuclear weapons.

Iran was also allowed to sell its oil and gas worldwide. However, secondary US sanctions remained. That allowed Tehran to earn an estimated $41bn in oil revenues in the 2016 fiscal year ending in March 2017, and $50bn more the following fiscal year that ended in March 2018.   

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed that Tehran has been meeting its nuclear commitments fully.

Khamenei said on Saturday it was an "obvious" mistake to negotiate with the US because it does not abide by agreements.

"I have previously pointed out that Americans' words or even signatures cannot be relied on; thus negotiations with the US are useless.

"The assumption that negotiations or establishing ties with the US would solve the country's problems is an obvious error."

"Negotiations with the Europeans must continue, but we must not wait for their offer indefinitely," said Khamenei.

Having withdrawn from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, Washington is determined to isolate Iran and pile on economic pressure with a full reimposition of sanctions, starting in August.

Europe opposes the move and has vowed to find ways of maintaining its trade ties with Iran, which under the deal curbed its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.


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