Iran has retaliated against France and Britain with its own ban on oil exports to the two countries, and the UK and US has been urging Israel not to make any rash moves against Iran. Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that UN nuclear inspectors will be in Tehran this coming Monday for talks regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons programs.
Oil sales to France and Britain no more
Just yesterday, the Iranian Oil Ministry announced that it will henceforth stop exporting crude to British and French companies. According to Oil Ministry spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad-Rahbar, the ministry has “[their] own customers” and will “sell and export [Iran’s] crude oil to new customers”.
This decision was made after EU member states agreed earlier this year to impose sanctions on Iranian oil imports and freeze central bank assets beginning July. The sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its nuclear development programs and stop enriching uranium, which can potentially be used to build warheads.
However, stopping oil sales to France and Britain will not have any significant impacts, and the action is believed to be more symbolic rather than anything else. As of last year, Iranian oil imports only comprised 3% of France’s total oil imports, while the UK imported even less. Moreover, the EU oil embargo was actually phased to begin in July so that member states would have time to find alternative sources of oil. Oil industry sources were quoted as saying that Iran’s top oil buyers in Europe have already considerably reduced purchases of Iranian crude.
Jean-Louis Schilansky, president of the French Union of Petroleum Industries, was quoted in a French newspaper saying that “the Iranian decision has no practical, direct consequences” for France.
Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi has said that banning oil exports to France and Britain will not hurt Tehran, although EU imports account for 20% of Iranian’s total oil sales and thus constitutes the majority of the government’s revenue. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, in response to Iran’s move, has agreed to supply extra oil to the EU by topping up existing term contracts or making rare spot market sales should the bloc fall short of oil supply. It was criticized by Iran for making the offer.
Report: Iran stops oil sales to British and French firms [Reuters, 19 February 2012]
Report: Iran ‘halts oil sales to France and Britain’ [BBC, 19 February 2012]
‘Military option’ would be counterproductive for Israel
During the past few weeks, Israel has expressed its vexation with Iran’s on-going nuclear enrichment programs, and has threatened to launch attacks on Iran’s nuclear plants. The US and the UK have, however, been trying to deter Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
For one, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staffs and US military’s most senior figure, has said that it is “not prudent” to attack Iran, in view that “a strike at this time would be destabilising”. He believes that “economic sanctions” and “international cooperation” gathered around sanctions have begun to take effect.
Likewise, British foreign secretary William Hague has also warned Israel against military action, which he insists is not “a wise thing”. According to Mr. Hague, “Israel, like everyone else in the world, should be giving a real chance to the approach [the UK has] adopted on very serious economic sanctions and economic pressure, and the readiness to negotiate with Iran.” He acknowledged that Iran has been increasingly involved in “illegal and potentially terrorist activity in other parts of the world”.
Despite the West’s attempts to dissuade Israel from military action, Israel’s military chief of staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz has said that “Israel is the central guarantor of its own security” and should “defend itself”. As such, Israel will ultimately decide on its own whether it should strike Iranian nuclear facilities.
Tensions between Israel and Iran have increased significantly during the past few months, and the latest terrorist attacks against Israeli diplomats have served only to worsen relations between the two nations.
Report: Talk of strike on Iran ‘premature’, top US general says [CNN, 20 February 2012]
Report: Israel will make own decision on Iran: Army Chief [The Economic Times, 20 February 2012]
UN nuclear inspections will be in Tehran for talks on Monday
The International Atomic Energy Agency Team (IAEA), UN’s nuclear watchdog, will be returning to Tehran this Monday for another round of nuclear talks, which were previously unsuccessful. Yet, hopes of a productive talk may be slim. Herman Nackaerts of the IAEA has expressed a lack of confidence in this, saying that discussing “military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program…is of course a very complex issue that may take a while”.
After four years of refusing to discuss its alleged weapons experiments, Iran seemed surprisingly eager to conduct talks on its nuclear programs this year. Last year, the IAEA found evidence to suggest that Iran has been working on developing nuclear weapons despite Iran’s refutation of these claims. However, Iran has not taken steps to disprove the allegations. Consequently, the IAEA hopes to inspect documents related to nuclear work in Iran and talk to Iranian scientists who may have had a hand working on weapon development programs. They were denied access to nuclear facilities and scientists during their initial trip to Tehran.
Report: Iran wants talks, under spectre of possible war [AFP, 20 February 2012]
Report: UN nuclear inspectors leave for key talks in Tehran on allegations Iran hid work on atom arms [Washington Post, 20 February 2012]