ISTANBUL – The Iranian armed forces conducted war exercises and their president defiantly promised to "break" sanctions on oil sales at midnight on Monday. Tehran resisted a pressure campaign by the Trump government to economically isolate the country.
"We will be proud to break the sanctions," Rouhani said at a meeting of government officials in the Iranian capital.
Rouhani's vow to continue exporting oil came when the Trump government rescinded sanctions on more than 700 individuals and companies that had facilitated sanctions when a 2015 nuclear deal came into force.
The unilateral sanctions introduce some of the most serious restrictions on the Iranian oil, shipping and banking sectors and seek to punish non-US companies doing business with Iran.
The Iranian leaders called the sanctions "illegal" and said they only hurt ordinary people. The Iranian economy is struggling with stagnant growth and high unemployment, even after sanctions have been lifted following the nuclear deal with the world powers. In recent months, the currency has fallen, which has led to rising prices and savings.
"We need to make it clear to the Americans that they can not speak the language of pressure and sanctions with the great Iranian nation," Rouhani said on Monday in a television report.
He spoke with a meeting of economists he said was the "head of the resistance" against the United States.
"What Americans are doing today is merely putting pressure on people," he said after a transcript of comments on the President's website.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other government officials have called the sanctions the "toughest sanctions" ever imposed on Iran. While the sheer number of sanctioned individuals and entities is greater than ever, many Middle Eastern experts believe that they will be less effective than US sanctions before the deal. This is because virtually every country in the world is behind the previous sanctions, while all but a handful of nations resist their reintroduction.
The most important of the new measures is the ban on the sale of oil, which supplies Tehran 80 percent of its sales.
Blacklisted companies include 50 Iranian banks, one Iranian airline and dozens of their aircraft, as well as officials and vessels in the Iranian shipping and energy sectors.
President Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2015, giving nations and businesses 180 days to reduce their oil purchases to zero. The government has renounced eight nations that have significantly reduced their oil purchases from Iran, but not completely stopped them.
Pompeo uncovered countries that were temporarily granted waivers of sanctions on Iran's oil purchases on Monday, even though the United States of America expects to further reduce their oil imports over the coming weeks and months. The countries include the two largest oil buyers in China, China and India. Exceptions have also been granted in Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Taiwan.
In addition, Pompeo said that the United States has granted exemptions to continue three ongoing non-proliferation projects overseeing the Iranian nuclear program. The only one he identified was Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, where Russia is building a second unit in an existing power plant.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that "US bullying is backfiring. He added: "The US – and not Iran – are isolated. "
The United States withdrew from the nuclear deal in May, saying the scope was too limited. The Trump government complained that the agreement negotiated between Iran and six world powers did not limit the limitation of the Iranian nuclear program enough and did not include other activities that it found offensive.
Under the agreement, Iran squeezed its nuclear energy program in return for a major relief from nuclear-related sanctions. Iran has met the terms of the nuclear agreement. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear warden had the task of overseeing the nation's nuclear activities. However, the Trump government demands that Iran change its "malicious behavior" in the region, including the development of ballistic missiles and support for regional deputies.
Iran is an important supporter of militant groups in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran experts warn, however, that sanctions are unlikely to change Iran's influence or activity in the region. A Friday report from the Brussels-based International Crisis Group tracked Iran's economic performance and regional policy over four decades, concluding that "there is little to no correlation between the two."
"Tehran has continued to pursue its policy, regardless of its economic well-being in its own country," the report said.
"The aggressive policies of the Trump government may spur Iran's regional activism rather than curb it," he said.
The Iranian military and its powerful Revolutionary Guard corps held joint war exercises on Monday in the north and west of the country, according to the official news agency Islamic Republic. The exercises include air defense systems and anti-aircraft batteries.
In Tehran, residents were worried on Monday and expressed concern about the future.
One man, a 45-year-old worker, said in a telephone interview that low salaries and high inflation mean that his family "can not even travel to our own villages" to visit relatives.
He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of state reprisals.
"I now work in two shifts, including the weekends, and we buy what we can afford without worrying about quality," he said.
Another resident, a 30-year-old woman who works in a private distribution company, said over the phone that she pays exorbitant amounts on the black market for prescription drugs for her parents.
"Many products can not be found [on the market] more, "she said.
The woman, a marketing supervisor, also refused to give her name so she could speak freely about the situation in Iran.
Neither Iran nor the United States "want the best for the Iranian people," she said. "So I have no hope."
"Sanctions are bad for people only," she said. "We have seen this in the past."
Morello reported from Washington.