EU Places Restrictions on Iranian Oil Imports

The European Union agreed to intensify restrictions on Iran on Monday over concerns regarding the Iranian nuclear program. According to a press statement from the EU, Europe will implement a phased ban of imports of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products, although existing contracts can continue until July 1. The measures will be reviewed prior to May 1.

The Council of the EU urged Iran to agree to “substantial negotiations” with the international community to resolve its ongoing nuclear dispute.

“The Council stresses that the restrictive measures agreed today are aimed at affecting the funding of Iran’s nuclear program by the Iranian regime and are not aimed at the Iranian people,” said an EU statement. “The Iranian regime itself can act responsibly and bring all sanctions to an end.”

Based on monthly EU data obtained by The Mideast Update earlier in January, the EU imported more than 30 million tons of crude oil from Iran for the year in 2010. Yet even before the latest EU oil sanctions were seriously discussed, the crude oil imports to Europe from Iran were already declining.

According to monthly data made available earlier this month regarding the first five months of 2011, that figure had dropped to 9.8 million tons—more than 2.5 million tons short of a pace needed to match 2010’s total.

In addition, whereas 11 different EU nations imported some amount of oil from Iran in 2010, only eight nations imported from Iran in the first five months of 2011.

In addition to the oil sanctions, the EU on Monday also agreed to place restrictions on the Iranian central bank by freezing its assets in the EU, “while ensuring that legitimate trade can continue under strict conditions.” Other trade sanctions were also announced.

The Israelis responded positively to the sanctions, with a released statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying of the oil ban, “I think that this is a step in the right direction. True, it is still impossible to know what the result of these sanctions will be. Very strong and quick pressure on Iran is necessary.

“Sanctions will have to be evaluated on the basis of results. As of today, Iran is continuing to produce nuclear weapons without hindrance.”

Iran and the international community have been in a lengthy standoff over their nuclear program. The West is particularly concerned about a report in the latter months of last year from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Director General of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, said in comments published by the IAEA website at the time that they have information indicating Iran has conducted activities relevant to nuclear weapons work prior to 2003 and “some activities may still be ongoing.”

The IAEA, on Monday, released its own statement saying that a “senior IAEA team” of officials, including Deputy Director General for Safeguards Herman Nackaerts, are set to visit Iran January 29-31. The IAEA press release said that the “overall objective of the IAEA is to resolve all outstanding substantive issues.”

IAEA chief Amano said in the statement that the Agency team is “going to Iran in a constructive spirit, and we trust that Iran will work with us in that same spirit.”

Meanwhile, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catharine Ashton said the “tough new sanctions” from Europe on Iran were intended to bring Iran back to talks with the global community.

“I want to stress however that sanctions are not an end in themselves,” said Ashton in a statement released by her office. “I have often talked about this being part of a twin track approach. The purpose of sanctions is to put pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiating table.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, January 23, 2012)