'Oil plot': US embargo on Iran targets Europe?

Reuters / Stringer Iran
Tehran believes that Washington is trying to deal a blow to debt-ridden Europe by forcing it to join its embargo on Iranian oil imports. Doing so would be “suicidal” for Europe, Iran says.

On Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the US wanted to drag Europe into joining the sanctions imposed in December because it would make the EU less competitive, reports the Iranian TV channel, Press TV.

The diplomat called on Europeans not to act as America’s client and instead to pursue their own interests in the conflict.

Meanwhile, Iran’s OPEC governor, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, said it would be “economic suicide” for Europe to join the sanctions amid the crisis.

“Regarding the economic crisis in the eurozone, imposing any sanction on Iran's oil will push European countries into a deeper crisis,” Khatibi said as quoted by Mehr news agency. “The European currency is already under pressure because of debt and financing problems facing some of its members.”

Double-edged embargo

Europe is a major importer of Iranian oil, the others being China, Japan, South Korea and India. Southern European countries like Italy, Spain and Greece buy some 13 per cent of all crude they consume from Iran.

The EU’s current plan is to join the oil embargo in a matter of months. The exact date is to be decided at a meeting in Brussels on January 23. The sanctions are expected sometime in early July, according to Financial Times sources.

The grace period is needed to find a replacement fuel source, which may be America’s close ally, Saudi Arabia, which has said it can boost domestic production to compensate for the shortage.

China, which is the largest buyer of Iranian oil, said last week it would not uphold any sanctions against the Islamic Republic unless they are imposed by the UN Security Council. India came up with a similar statement on Wednesday.

South Korea and Japan both voiced their readiness to boycott Iran’s crude, but did not indicate when such a measure might come into force. Japan is particularly vulnerable to energy shortages after the devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit it last year, destroying the Fukushima power plant.

Iran came up with a number of bald statements after Barack Obama implemented the oil embargo in December. Chief among them is its threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, a key sea route for Gulf oil tankers, in response to the pressure.

The sanctions are meant to force Tehran into making its nuclear program transparent to foreign inspectors. Iran insists that the program is purely civilian, but many Western nations say it is ultimately pursuing nuclear weapon capabilities. No hard proof of such intentions has ever been produced.

Iran on Wednesday confirmed that it is ready to restart talks on the issue and is waiting for the group of six nuclear mediators to set a date for a meeting.

­Philip Giraldi, an ex-CIA officer who is currently the executive director of the Council for the National Interest think-tank, believes Iran is buying time, basically saying: “There is a high level of belligerency right now, but if we buy time, possibly that will change.”

“The resolve of the European powers to push on this Iranian nuclear issue is higher now,” Giraldi explained. “But if there is a genuine threat to possibly raise oil prices through closing the Strait of Hormuz, then the Europeans who get quite a lot of this oil would begin to reconsider what they are doing.”