The Trump administration said Monday that it will no longer exempt countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, in a move that sparked condemnations from Tehran as well as Iran's major oil importers, including China 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 destabilising activity throughout the Middle East and beyond.
"This decision is intended to bring Iran's oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue," the White House said in a statement.
Announcing the step, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said no more sanctions waivers would be granted when the current batch expire on May 2, choking off Iranian income that had been more than $50 billion a year.
"The goal remains simply: To deprive the outlaw regime of the funds that it has used to destabilize the Middle East for decades and incentivise Iran to behave like a normal country," Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.
The administration had granted eight waivers when it re-imposed sanctions on Iran in November after Trump pulled the US out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
The waivers were issued in part to give those countries more time to find alternate energy sources but also to prevent a shock to global oil markets from the sudden removal of Iranian crude. Three of those waivers, for Greece, Italy and Taiwan, are no longer needed because they have all halted their imports of Iranian oil.
But the other five continue to import Iranian oil and had lobbied for their waivers to be extended.
Philip Crowther reports from Washington
Iran blasts ‘illegal’ decision
The decision was promptly condemned by Iranian officials who denounced the move as “illegal”.
"Since the sanctions in question are principally illegal, the Islamic Republic of Iran did not and does not attach any value or credibility to the waivers given to the sanctions," the Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement issued on its official website.
The statement added that Iran had intensified consultations with neighbouring countries, as well as "European and international partners" on the sanctions. The ministry said a "necessary decision" will be announced later, without elaborating.
Tehran reiterated a long-running Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz if it's prevented from using the crucial waterway in the Persian Gulf through which about a third of all oil traded at sea passes. "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
Iran has made similar threats before, and it was not clear if his remarks were related to Monday's announcement.
‘Turkey rejects unilateral sanctions’
Turkey also criticised the move, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying it "will not serve regional peace and stability".
In a message posted on Twitter Monday, Cavusoglu said: "Turkey rejects unilateral sanctions and impositions on how to conduct relations with neighbors." Cavusoglu added the decision would harm the people of Iran. He tagged the US State Department and Pompeo on his tweet.