Iran slams EU oil embargo, warns could hit US
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TEHRAN/BRUSSELS: Iran accused Europeans on Monday of waging "psychological warfare" after the EU banned imports of Iranian oil, and US President Barack Obama said Washington would impose more sanctions to address the "serious threat presented by Iran's nuclear program."
The Islamic Republic, which denies trying to build a nuclear bomb, scoffed at efforts to choke its oil exports, as Asia lines up to buy what Europe scorns.
Some Iranians also renewed threats to stop Arab oil from leaving the Gulf and warned they might strike US targets worldwide if Washington used force to break any Iranian blockade of a strategically vital shipping route.
Yet in three decades of confrontation between Tehran and the West, bellicose rhetoric and the undependable armoury of sanctions have become so familiar that the benchmark Brent crude oil price edged only 0.8 per cent higher, and some of that was due to unrelated currency factors.
"If any disruption happens regarding the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed," Mohammad Kossari, deputy head of parliament's foreign affairs and national security committee, told Fars news agency a day after US, French and British warships sailed back into the Gulf.
"If America seeks adventures after the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran will make the world unsafe for Americans in the shortest possible time," Kossari added, referring to an earlier US pledge to use its fleet to keep the passage open.
In Washington, Obama said in a statement that the EU sanctions underlined the strength of the international community's commitment to "addressing the serious threat presented by Iran's nuclear program."
"The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran," Obama said.
The United States imposed its own sanctions against Iran's oil trade and central bank on Dec 31. On Monday, it imposed sanctions on the country's third-largest bank, state-owned Bank Tejarat and a Belarus-based affiliate, for allegedly helping Tehran develop its nuclear program.
The EU sanctions were also welcomed by Israel, which has warned it might attack Iran if sanctions do not deflect Tehran from a course that some analysts say could potentially give Iran a nuclear bomb next year.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: "This new, concerted pressure will sharpen the choice for Iran's leaders and increase their cost of defiance of basic international obligations."
US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, reiterated Washington's commitment to freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. "I think that Iran has undoubtedly heard that message and would be well advised to heed it," she said at a meeting of the board of governors of the American Jewish Committee in New York.
CALLS FOR TALKS: Germany, France and Britain used the EU sanctions as a cue for a joint call to Tehran to renew long-suspended negotiations on its nuclear programme. Russia, like China a powerful critic of the Western approach, said talks might soon be on the cards.
Iran, however, said new sanctions made that less likely. It is a view shared by some in the West who caution that such tactics risk hardening Iranian support for a nuclear programme that also seems to be subject to a covert "war" of sabotage and assassinations widely blamed on Israeli and Western agents.
The European Union embargo will not take full effect until July 1 because the foreign ministers who agreed the anticipated ban on imports of Iranian crude at a meeting in Brussels were anxious not to penalise the ailing economies of Greece, Italy and others to whom Iran is a major oil supplier. The strategy will be reviewed in May to see if it should go ahead.
Curbing Iran's oil exports is a double-edged sword, as Tehran's own response to the embargo clearly showed.
Loss of revenue is painful for a clerical establishment that faces an awkward electoral test at a time of galloping inflation which is hurting ordinary people. But since Iran's Western-allied Arab neighbours are struggling to raise their own output to compensate, the curbs on Tehran's exports have driven up oil prices and raised costs for recession-hit Western industries.
A member of Iran's influential Assembly of Experts, former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, said Tehran should respond to the delayed-action EU sanctions by stopping sales to the bloc immediately, denying the Europeans time to arrange alternative supplies and damaging their economies with higher oil prices.
"The best way is to stop exporting oil ourselves before the end of this six months and before the implementation of the plan," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted him as saying.