Iran has vowed to use military force to protect its oil tankers from external threats, after a senior United States official described the vessels as a “floating liability” and urged port operators to refuse them access.
The war-of-words comes exactly one week after Washington re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s crucial energy and shipping sectors, which, in turn, followed President Donald Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. U.S. Special Representative Brian Hook warned that countries could face financial penalties for facilitating Iran’s “illicit activities” should such tankers be allowed to traverse international waterways and use docking facilities.
He also claimed that Tehran regularly ships “millions of barrels of crude” to Syria, where Iranian forces are fighting in support of the Assad regime.
This comes as Saudi Arabia announced it would unilaterally cut its December oil output by 500 million barrels per day, while pushing for a worldwide reduction of double that amount due to decreasing demand. The move caused Brent crude futures, a benchmark for global oil prices, to rise by two percent in early trading Monday, although the overall cost of a barrel of product has declined by nearly 20 percent over the past month.
The U.S. has applied pressure on Saudi Arabia, de facto leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, to not lower supply, arguing that such a move, coupled with diminishing Iranian production due to sanctions, could strain the market and lead to a spike in oil prices.