EU Iran sanctions: Ministers adopt Iran oil imports ban

 

Catherine Ashton: "The purpose of sanctions is to put pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiating table"

European Union foreign ministers have formally adopted an "unprecedented" oil embargo against Iran over its nuclear programme, banning all new oil contracts with the country.

They also agreed a freeze on the assets of Iran's central bank in the EU.

The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports.

There was no official Iranian reaction, but one Iranian lawmaker played down the decision, calling it a "mere propaganda gesture".

Iran had "failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme", British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.

"We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region," the leaders added.

The measures were "another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran," US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement welcoming the move.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog has confirmed it is sending a team to Iran between 29 and 31 January "to resolve all outstanding substantive issues".

Last November the IAEA said in a report that it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device" - sparking the decision by the US and EU to issue tougher sanctions.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy purposes.

Earlier on Monday, the Pentagon said the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as a British Royal Navy frigate and a French warship, had passed through the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf without incident, in the wake of Iranian threats to block the trade route.

'Substantial impact'

The EU said the sanctions prohibit the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products as well as related finance and insurance. All existing contracts will have to be phased out by 1 July.

Investment as well as the export of key equipment and technology for Iran's petrochemical sector is also banned.

Iran oil exports

Additional restrictions have been placed on Iran's central bank and in the trade of gold, precious metals and diamonds.

BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt says it is one of the toughest steps the EU has ever taken.

Analysis

So once the new measures are in place how successful will they be? Even western diplomats are uncertain.

There is no doubting that the Iranian economy will suffer. But the nuclear programme is a matter of national pride and ultimately national security.

Iran has seen the demise of regimes in Iraq and Libya and noted the survival of that in North Korea - the one so-called "rogue state" that has nuclear weapons.

Iran's rulers may well believe that having at least the potential for a nuclear bomb is something that could secure the country against outside threat.

Seen in this light one can imagine the Iranian authorities being willing to absorb considerable economic pain to pursue their nuclear research effort.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the purpose of the sanctions was "to put pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiating table".

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the embargo showed "the resolve of the European Union on this issue".

"It is absolutely right to do this when Iran is continuing to breach United Nations resolutions and refusing to come to meaningful negotiations on its nuclear programme," he added.

But the Russian foreign ministry said it was a "deeply mistaken" move that would not encourage Iran to return to the negotiating table.

"It's apparent that in this case there is open pressure and diktat, aimed at "punishing" Iran," it said in a statement.

Ali Adyani, a member of the Iranian parliament's energy commission, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying the EU decision "would only serve some American and European politicians".

"It will not have any effect on Iran's economy," he said, adding that Tehran could sell oil to "any country" despite the ban.

Rising tensions

BBC Iran correspondent James Reynolds says oil is the country's most valuable asset and sales help to keep the Iranian government in money and power.

A decision by the EU to stop buying from Iran may damage the Iranian economy - but in itself it won't destroy it, our correspondent says.

The BBC's James Reynolds visits Dubai where many people export goods to Iran

Iran sells most of its oil to countries in Asia. The EU and the United States are now working to persuade Asian countries to reduce their purchases from Iran as well.

Iran has already threatened to retaliate by blocking the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, through which 20% of the world's oil exports pass.

The US has said it will keep the trade route open, raising the possibility of a confrontation.

Late last year Iran conducted 10 days of military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, test-firing several missiles.

Oil prices have risen already because of the increasing tension and the expected impact of an EU ban on oil supplies to Europe.

Map A French warship also accompanied US and UK naval vessels through the Strait of Hormuz on Monday
 

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  • rate this
    +18

    Comment number 138.

    All these cries for war against Iran on the basis of it being undemocratic and noncompliant are coming from hypocrits who don't have guts to admit that we are doing it for oil, otherwise they would also demand sanctions against Israel, India, Pakistan, etc. none of which signed a non proliferation treaty. What a bunch of clowns!

  • rate this
    -20

    Comment number 134.

    I don't think anything less than a full scale invasion can stop Iran from getting the bomb and another war isn't going to happen.

    What is going to happen is that Iran will get the bomb. The most we in the west can do is economically squeeze Iran as hard as possible in order to discourage other nations from trying to build nuclear bombs for themselves.

    Not good but that's how it is.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 123.

    People need to stand down here and stop acting like idiots. Iran needs to engage with direct discussions as to their nuclear intentions and open up facilities to international inspection again before some gets hurt. It won't take much for a scared teenager on either side to lose their nerve and press a button. Iran has it's own internal problems and needs support and engagement not bullying.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 122.

    Iran as a country is not a problem but like like libya Its leadership is.

    I dont think its a problem for any country to have Nuclear power as many other have it although i am not a great fan of it. The problem you have with Iran is if they get the bomb who they will sell it to? There leadership is the issue and should be stopped without the need for a war.

  • rate this
    +22

    Comment number 105.

    That will certainly bring Iran into the international fold. Combine that with warships moving into the Gulf and one would understand fully why Iran feels like the victim. Engagement is required not sabre rattling. It is not in Iran's interest to launch an attach of any sort against anybody. Any excuse for the Saudis to make more money and keep global oil demand and prices high, even in a recession

 

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