EU diplomats are calling the measure part of a twin track approach toward Iran: increase sanctions to discourage what they suspect is Iran pursuit of nuclear weapons but to emphasize at the same time the international community’s willingness to talk. Iran says its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the embargo part of “an unprecedented set of sanctions.”
“I think this shows the resolve of the European Union on this issue,” Hague said.
The EU also agreed to freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank. Together, the two measures are intended not only to pressure Iran to agree to talks but also to choke of funding for its nuclear activities.
In October, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton sent a letter to Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, saying her goal was a negotiated solution that “restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”
She says she has not yet received a reply.
Only Iran punished
In advance of Monday’s decision, negotiators worked hard to try to ensure that the embargo would punish only Iran — and not EU member Greece, which is in dire financial trouble and relies heavily on low-priced Iranian oil.
The foreign ministers agreed to a review of the effects of the sanctions, to be completed by May 1, a diplomat said. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the subject before the official announcement. And they agreed in principle to make up the costs Greece incurs as a result of the embargo.
“It is important to know what will happen to individual countries as a consequence of the sanctions,” Ashton said before the meeting.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was critical that action be taken. “This is not a question of security in the region,” he said. “It is a question of security in the world.”
Iran: Stop oil sales to EU now
In response, Iran should halt all oil sales to the European Union immediately to disrupt EU plans for an embargo in six months’ time, a senior Iranian politician said on Monday.
Ali Fallahian was responding to the European Union’s decision earlier in the day to impose a ban on Iranian crude oil imports, to be fully enforced by July 1, part of a potentially crushing range of new sanctions the West hopes will force Tehran to curb its nuclear work.
Fallahian, a former intelligence minister and current member of the influential state Assembly of Experts, said Iran should stop exporting crude to the EU immediately, to cause a spike in prices and deny the Europeans time to find other supplies.
“The best way is to stop exporting oil ourselves before the end of this six months and before the implementation of the plan,” Fallahian was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.
Could close the Strait
He also reiterated that Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow opening to the Gulf, in retaliation for sanctions that stop it exporting oil — a move the United States has said it would not tolerate.
“If they increase the pressure on our country, we can use the Strait of Hormuz as a tool to decrease the pressures and closing the strait is one of the options,” he said.
First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said at the end of December that Iran would not allow “even one drop of oil” through the Strait of Hormuz — through which around a third of the world’s sea-borne traded oil passes — if the West imposed sanctions on Iranian oil.