US pushes back on Iranian officials as spat over oil exports continues

US will keep Persian Gulf open



(CNN) - The US and Iran continue to trade barbs over Iranian oil exports, with the US military announcing it will continue to keep the Persian Gulf open to international shipping.

"US Central Command partners with many nations to provide and promote security and stability in the region, " said Capt. William Urban, spokesman for the command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East. "Together, we stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows."

Urban's comment came after the leading Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander on Wednesday had offered his nation's moderate President a rare endorsement after Hassan Rouhani called US attempts to block Iranian oil exports "pointless."

'Incorrect and unwise'

The verbal tit-for-tat began after a Trump administration official promised Monday to get the number of "countries importing Iranian crude down to zero." Iranian officials bristled, interpreting the declaration as a US intent to stop Iranian shipping.

Rouhani on Tuesday called it "incorrect and unwise" for the United States to single out Iran as the only country in the region it would block from exporting oil, according to an official translation of Rouhani's comments at a Tuesday news conference in Bern, Switzerland.

Iranian officials in the past have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route for Persian Gulf nations to the Arabian Sea.

The comment prompted Qasem Soleimani, who heads Iran's elite Quds Force and rarely makes public statements, to say he would "kiss" Rouhani's hand after the President hinted Tuesday at threats to disrupt regional oil exports.

"Your valuable statement that said there will be no guarantees for oil exports from this region unless the Islamic Republic of Iran (can) also export its oil was a source of pride," the hard-line commander said in a tweet, adding that he would be ready to implement the policy.

Soleimani, who is widely known as Iran's "spymaster," and Rouhani, who has made diplomacy with the West a staple of his presidency, rarely see eye to eye.

On Wednesday in Vienna, Austria, Rouhani again criticized the United States, saying its attempt to "reduce Iran's oil import to zero is mindless" and an indication that the Trump administration hasn't "thought about its consequences."

Sanctions are set to be reimposed on November 4, and more than 50 international firms have said they will leave the Iranian market, Brian Hook, a State Department policy and planning director, said Monday at a news conference in Washington.

"We have been clear with countries and companies around the world that we are bringing severe economic pressure on Iran until the regime changes its destabilizing policies," he said.

Rouhani is on a European tour in an attempt to salvage his country's multilateral nuclear agreement after Trump announced a US withdrawal from the deal in May. Trump's move is unpopular in Europe, where leaders are trying to prevent Iran from restarting its nuclear program, which the agreement curbed.

Rouhani is due to meet the remaining signatories of the deal Friday in Vienna.

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