Greece’s veto blocks EU ban on Iranian oil
EU fails to pass an Iranian oil ban after the Greece’s veto, says the French FM.U foreign ministers piled pressure on Iran over its contested nuclear programme yesterday, slapping sanctions on an extra 180 firms and individuals and threatening to hit out at its vital oil sector. But ministers failed to reach an agreement to impose an oil embargo against Iran a measure that some argued would have choked off funding for Iran’s alleged program to develop nuclear weapons.
Expressing “deepening concerns” on the nature of the nuclear programme, the 27 European Union foreign ministers urged the bloc to “extend the scope” of current sanctions in order to strike at Tehran’s financial heart. A statement said the ministers agreed to examine measures in particular affecting the financial system in the transport and energy sector. Outraged by Tuesday’s storming of the British embassy in Tehran, the ministers also said they considered “these actions against the UK as actions against the European Union as a whole”.
In Iran, sanctions were imposed on 37 people and 143 “entities” companies or organizations. The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the European Union and a ban on traveling to EU countries. The full list of names of those targeted will not be known until they are published in the official journal of the EU on Friday. But the official conclusions of the meeting said they include the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line and members of, and entities controlled by, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on joining the talks that he would urge his counterparts to squeeze Iran for both its nuclear activities and mounting human rights violations. “I hope we will agree today additional measures that will be an intensification of the economic pressure on Iran, peaceful legitimate economic pressure particularly to increase the isolation of the Iranian financial sector,” he said.
Though German counterpart Guido Westerwelle too favored moves “to dry up Iran’s financial sources”, the crisis-hit EU is deeply split over slapping an oil embargo on Iran as well as over calls by some, including Britain, to agree an assets freeze on Iran’s central bank. The new sanctions follow the publication last month of a new report on Iran’s contested nuclear activity by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Britain, France, Germany and Sweden favour a bar on buying oil from Iran. However, others led by economically-troubled Spain, Greece and Italy are significantly dependent on Iranian crude. Oil from Iran in 2010 amounted to 5.8 percent of total EU imports, making Tehran the bloc’s fifth-largest supplier after Russia, Norway, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Of that total, Spain accounted for 14.6 percent, Greece for 14.0 and Italy for 13.1 percent.
Cash-strapped Greece led opposition to an oil embargo, with an EU diplomat saying: “Iran sells them on credit which is a considerable advantage these days.” The EU has already frozen the assets of hundreds of Iranian firms and in July last year adopted measures aimed at preventing new investment, technical assistance and technology transfers, particularly those pertaining to producing and refining gas. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that Greece, which relies on Iranian oil, had objected to a ban on buying it. But he said work toward an embargo would continue.
“Greece has put forward a number of reservations,” Juppe said. “We have to take that into account. We have to see with our partners that the cuts can be compensated by the increase of production in other countries. It is very possible.” Iran has denied it is pursuing nuclear weapons. The attack on the British embassy is believed to have begun as a state-approved protest over Western sanctions linked to the country’s nuclear program.