Some House Republicans were upset that China was granted a U.S. exemption. "Today the administration has granted a free pass to Iran's biggest enabler, China, which purchases more Iranian crude than any other country," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
A decision not to grant an exemption to China would have risked a diplomatic and economic showdown with an important trading partner, a country Washington is trying to persuade to play a more constructive role in other areas, such as the Syrian conflict and North Korea's nuclear program.
Granting the temporary exemption, which indicates that China's price dispute with Tehran counts as compliance, increases the pressure on the administration to redouble efforts to get China on board.
"With Chinese imports likely to rise in June and July, the administration will need to insist on Chinese compliance for the remainder of the year or face political embarrassment," said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
He said the U.S. needs to press countries that have received exemptions to make even deeper cuts in purchases of Iranian oil to increase the pressure on Tehran. "Iranian nuclear physics is beating Western economic pressure and the Iranian regime doesn't yet fear U.S. military power. The administration has very little time to change that strategic calculus," he said.