Europe Still Considering Sanctions on Iranian Oil

The European Union member states are discussing possible restrictions on crude oil imports from Iran as sanctions over their nuclear program, with the plan to have an agreement in place by the end of the month. Iran was the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the EU in 2010—after Russia, Norway, Libya and Saudi Arabia. The discussions on further sanctions follow a troubling report on Iran in late 2011 from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency.

An EU diplomat, speaking with The Mideast Update, said the EU has “already expressed our intention to extend sanctions against Iran, including the possibility of restrictions on Iranian oil.” However, the arrangement is not yet settled and “discussions” on the issue are “still ongoing.”

Said the diplomat, “We aim to have a package of sanctions agreed by the next meeting of EU foreign ministers” on January 30.

The United States expressed its support for the sanctions, before clarifying on Thursday that the EU has yet to finalize the restrictions. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland, in comments released by the State Department, praised the proposed moves to reporters on Wednesday and said they’d like to see nations around the world take similar steps.

“We do believe that this is consistent with tightening the noose on Iran economically,” said Nuland, “and we think that the place to get Iran’s attention is with regard to its oil sector.”

On Thursday, she explained what she knew of the EU process regarding the potential move. “My understanding is that in early December, they agreed that they would work on this throughout the month of December,” Nuland was quoted by a State Department release as saying. “They have been working with technical experts, et cetera, to try to put together a package. That’s the package that’ll be finally looked at the end of the month. But what you saw coming out of Brussels was an effort to say we’re making progress at that level.”

The EU diplomat, in his comments to The Mideast Update, said that the discussions on additional restrictions come after the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which raised further concerns about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.

“Our decision to ratchet up sanctions follows the worrying conclusions of the IAEA report,” said the diplomat.

Based on monthly EU data, 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 available monthly data for the first five months of 2011, that figure has 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.

The sanctions discussion comes as tensions between Iran and the West have heightened in recent months. In addition to the IAEA report, newspapers have also reported discussions or preparations in case of a hypothetical military strike on Iran.

Furthermore, several mysterious explosions have also rocked Iran, a US military spy drone was captured by the Iranians and the Iranian navy conducted drills in areas considered sensitive for the shipping of oil from the Middle East. One fear is that Iran could blockade that key shipping line if their nuclear program were to be attacked.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, January 6, 2012)