Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz listens to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) during a joint press conference following a meeting on Wednesday in Vienna. Photo: Robert Jaeger/APA/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iran’s Qassem Soleimani praised the tough stance President Hassan Rouhani has taken in standing up to American threats to block Iran’s oil sales.
“This is the same Rouhani we used to know, we have, and the same Rouhani that should be,” the head of the Revolutionary Guards wrote in a letter to Rouhani, as published by IRNA news on Wednesday.
The day before, Rouhani had hinted that Iran could block off Hormuz Strait if it is not allowed to sell oil under US sanctions that are expected to come into force in November.
"I believe that what US officials said about blocking Iran's oil export is pointless and they will never be able to make it happen. This action by the White House is illegal, extraterritorial and in violation of all international commitments in the field of energy and trade. The idea that everybody can export oil, except for Iran, is incorrect and unwise,” Rouhani said in a joint press conference with Swiss President Alain Berset in Bern.
The majority of Iran’s oil is shipped to international markets through Hormuz Strait, the body of water connecting the Persian Gulf with the open ocean.
It is a strategic passage for the transport of oil from Gulf countries and handles as much 20 percent of the world’s oil. As such, the strait is directly linked to global energy security. Any interruption to marine traffic could knock millions of barrels of oil out of the world market.
In Austria on Wednesday, Rouhani brought up the issue again with another subtle hint at wider repercussions, saying: “Americans claiming that they will reduce Iran’s oil export to zero is mindless, indicating that they haven’t thought about the consequences.”
Rouhani did not directly say the strait would be targeted, but Iran has threatened it in the past.
During the Iran-Iraq war, both sides targeted shipping traffic in these waters.
On April 18, 1988, the USS Samuel B. Roberts received considerable damage from Iranian mines. In retaliation, the US army launched Operation Praying Mantis, destroying Iran’s Sassan and Sirri oil platforms.
In January 2012, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards conducted military exercises in Bandar Abbas, a Gulf port on Iran's southern coast, practicing how to block Hormuz Strait. A month earlier, Iran’s navy chief had said it would be “easy” to close the strait after then Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi had threatened that no oil would pass through the strait if the West imposed more sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program.
A major goal of US military presence in Persian Gulf is to keep the strait open to oil.
The UAE constructed a pipeline to ship its oil to ports on the Gulf of Oman, bypassing Hormuz Strait.
Rouhani’s veiled threats during his European tour may be interpreted as the start of efforts to unite reformists and hardliners as diplomatic efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal have been unsuccessful.
Soleimani warmly welcomed Rouhani’s words, writing, “By your wise, invaluable, and powerful remarks, you filled with pride our dear leader [Khamenei], the Iranian people, and world Muslims.”
“I am at the service of any policy that is in the interests of the Islamic Establishment,” he added.