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15 Feb, 2012 12:17

Iran denies reports on EU oil export cuts

Iran's Oil Ministry has refuted media reports on the country stopping its crude exports to six EU nations on Wednesday.

"We deny this report… If such a decision is made, it will be announced by Iran's Supreme National Security Council," a spokesman for the ministry told Reuters.The European Commission has "absolutely no information" about the news and will check it, said the spokesman for Foreign Policy, Michael Mann.The initial news from Tehran nonetheless sent Brent crude prices up nearly $2 a barrel to $119.28, hitting a six-month high.Iran’s state Press TV first reported that Tehran had cut off crude supplies to Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, France and the Netherlands. That would have fulfilled Iran's threat to retaliate for the EU’s oil embargo, agreed by the bloc in January.  But then the news was reduced to the Iranian Foreign Ministry notifying the ambassadors of the six EU countries of the upcoming oil blockade. Out of the listed nations, Italy, Spain and Greece account for up to 68 per cent of Iranian oil consumed in Europe. Half of Spanish and a third of Greek oil imports come from that country. The Spanish ambassador to Iran has voiced concerns that Tehran’s preemptive oil action would deliver a heavy blow to Madrid’s staggering economy. The EU's 27 member states adopted the oil embargo against Tehran on January 23. It immediately banned new oil deals with Iran and implemented a total boycott of Iranian oil from July 2012. The EU embargo followed tough US sanctions approved earlier last month. Taken together, they remove 2.6 million barrels of oil from international markets, as Iran is the world’s third-largest oil exporter, only behind Saudi Arabia and Russia.Western leaders insist Iran is on a dangerous path towards acquiring nuclear weapons and demand it halts its program. Tehran consistently denies such ambitions, saying its nuclear intentions are civilian, not military.

Iran gave “a two-fold” response to the US and EU on Wednesday, says Chris Bambery, a political analyst with the International Socialist Group. The day began with more pressure from Washington, who wants to target the Iranian oil trade by excluding Tehran from the financial clearinghouse SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication). Iran could not help playing hardball in response, Bambery says, though in any case Tehran sees an opportunity for negotiations. “Iran is responding in a very measured way. On the one hand, this is a hard response – threatening to cut oil supplies to the EU’s poorest countries. But on the other hand, they are offering the EU and the US to talk over the whole nuclear question. Iran says it is prepared for talks despite the propaganda campaign launched by the US, UK and Israel and despite the military build-up in the Persian Gulf,” Bambery told RT.