(Adds EU reaction)
By Silke Koltrowitz
BERN, July 3 (Reuters) - President Hassan Rouhani appeared on Tuesday to threaten to disrupt oil shipments from neighbouring countries if Washington presses ahead with its goal of forcing all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.
The comments, published on Iran’s presidential website on Tuesday and partially repeated at a later news conference in Switzerland, could be open to interpretation. However, when asked whether he intended to make a threat, Rouhani declined to provide a clarification.
Iranian officials in the past have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action against Iran.
“The Americans have claimed they want to completely stop Iran’s oil exports. They don’t understand the meaning of this statement, because it has no meaning for Iranian oil not to be exported, while the region’s oil is exported,” the website, president.ir, quoted him as saying.
When asked at a news conference in Bern later on Tuesday whether those comments constituted a threat to interfere with the shipping of neighbouring countries, Rouhani said: “Assuming that Iran could become the only oil producer unable to export its oil is a wrong assumption ... The United States will never be able to cut Iran’s oil revenues.”
The United States pulled out of a multinational deal in May to lift sanctions against Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear programme. Washington has since told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face U.S. financial measures, with no exemptions.
Rouhani said the new U.S. pressure would never succeed.
“It is incorrect and unwise to imagine that some day all producer countries will be able to export their surplus oil and Iran will not be able to export its oil,” he said.
The Iranian president is in Europe to gather support ahead of a meeting later this week between Iran and the five global powers that are still party to the 2015 nuclear deal.
“Iran will remain committed to the deal, as long as its interests are preserved,” Rouhani said. Tehran said its foreign minister would meet counterparts from U.S. allies Britain, France and Germany, as well as Russia and China, in Vienna on Friday to discuss ways of maintaining the nuclear deal.
The five other powers have all said they still support the deal despite the U.S. decision to withdraw. Iran has asked the European countries to come up with a new economic package to offset the U.S. sanctions and preserve the accord.
“At the meeting, which will be held at the request of Iran, foreign ministers of Iran and five world powers will discuss a proposed European package and measures to protect the agreement,” Iranian state news agency IRNA reported on Tuesday.
The signatories to the deal, minus the United States, have been working on a ministerial meeting in Vienna for weeks and the date has slipped several times since preparations began.
“For now, that’s the plan,” an EU source said. “The Iranians expect the others to say what we are going to do to keep the deal alive.”
“We will have to see if it is going to be good enough for the Iranians,” the source added.
The EU’s foreign service, the EEAS, was not immediately available for comment on the meeting.
Since President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw in May, calling the agreement deeply flawed, European states have been scrambling to ensure Iran gets enough economic benefits to persuade it to maintain the nuclear curbs required in the deal.
But so far it has proven difficult to offset the impact of continued U.S. sanctions, with European firms reluctant to risk far-reaching U.S. financial penalties to do business in Iran.
Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, exports about 2 million barrels of crude oil per day.
The White House said on Saturday that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had promised Trump that he can raise oil production if needed, and that Riyadh has 2 million barrels per day of spare capacity. (Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom, Alissa De Carbonnel in Brussels, John Irish in Paris,and Francois Murphy in Vienna Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Peter Graff, William Maclean)