Experts on sanctions said they were not surprised by the administration's decision to withhold an exemption from China.
"They don't want to issue the exception to China now, and then face pressure to revoke it in the next 180-day period," said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on Iranian sanctions. Even if the volume of China's oil purchases does not decline, some experts predict that China might be able to comply with the American sanctions by arguing that it is paying a lower price for the oil, depriving the Iranian government of much-needed revenue. China is also using channels to buy oil that go around the Central Bank of Iran, which could give it a loophole to keep buying oil without triggering the sanctions.
Despite the White House's decision not to exempt China, Republicans in Congress criticized the exemptions it did grant.
"While many of our allies are doing the right thing by significantly decreasing crude oil purchases from Iran, those who are violating the law must be held to account," Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "There remains much that needs to be done to tighten the screws on Iran, and once again Congress will have to lead the way."
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and a sponsor of the Iranian sanctions legislation, said he would reserve judgment on the latest waivers. But in a statement that also referred to the European Union, he said that since the president signed the law, "Iran is estimated to have lost approximately $10 billion in oil revenue, the Iranian currency has plummeted, and oil output has fallen to a 20-year low — and that is all before the U.S. and E.U. sanctions go into effect later this month."