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article imageIran stops crude oil sales to UK and France

By JohnThomas Didymus     Feb 19, 2012 in World
Iran on Sunday halted oil sales to Britain and France in retaliation against EU sanctions. According to Iranian spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad Rahbar: "Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped...we will sell our oil to new customers."
The EU last month decided to boycott Iranian oil from July 1, but on Sunday, the Iranian oil minister made a preemptive move by announcing Iran has stopped selling oil to France and Britain. But according to Reuters, the significance of the move is only symbolic because neither countries rely on Iranian crude imports.
BBC also reports the move is not expected to have a significant impact. Last year France bought only 3 percent of its oil (58,000 barrels per day) from Iran and UK imported even less.
Iran's Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi, according to BBC, has said that a cut in exports to Europe would not hurt Tehran either.
An earlier report in some Iranian media said the country had also halted export of crude to Netherlands, Greece, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. But the Iranian oil ministry later denied the reports.
The European Commission, according to Reuters, says it has stocked enough oil to meet its needs for about 120 days and, therefore, will not be affected if Iran stops selling oil to member countries. Industry sources said European oil buyers were already cutting their crude purchases from Iran in preparation for full implementation of the European sanctions.
BBC reports EU phased its oil embargo on Iran so that member states relatively dependent on Iranian crude will have enough time to find alternative sources.
Last year, Iran supplied more than 700,000 barrels b/d to the EU and Turkey. The amount had reduced to about 650,000 b/d at the beginning of 2012. France's Total has stopped buying Iranian crude. Royal Dutch Shell has also reduced its purchases of Iranian oil.
Greece, Italy and Spain are the most vulnerable to stoppage of Iranian crude imports. According to Reuters, Tupras of Turkey was the biggest European buyer of Iranian crude in 2011, about 200,000 b/d. Hellenic of Greece purchased about 80,000 b/d and Cepsa of Spain, 70,000 b/d.
Iran continues to deny accusations by the West that its nuclear program is for military purposes. But in recent weeks the Iranian government has said it is willing to resume negotiations. Iran recently sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, promising new initiatives in negotiations with the West.
But with Iran refusing to stop uranium enrichment, Western powers are saying they have not ruled out military strikes against Iran. A top U.S. military officer has, however, said that a military strike would be premature because it is not clear that Iran intends to build a nuclear bomb.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "I believe it is unclear (that Iran would assemble a bomb) and on that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us." Dempsey said he believed the Iranian government is a "rational actor."
Reuters reports that a five-member team from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flew to Teheran on Sunday for talks, but Western diplomats are not expecting any important results from the two-day talks. UKPA reports that Herman Nackaerts of the IAEA tried to avoid raising hopes about outcome of the talks. He said: "Importantly, we hope that we can have some concrete results after this trip, and the highest priority remains of course the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme. This is of course a very complex issue that may take a while, but we hope it will be constructive."
Reuters quotes an envoy saying: "I'm still pessimistic that Iran will demonstrate the substantive cooperation necessary."
Iran is already feeling the impact of the sanctions. Working-class Iranians are under pressure as the effects come to play. Marjan Hamidi an Iranian shopper, according to Reuters, said in Tehran: "Everything's become so expensive in the past few weeks. But my husband's income stays the same. How am I going to live like this?"
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