EU stays its hand on Iran oil embargo

Posted on December 1, 2011

The European Union has added 180 Iranian officials and entities to its sanctions list but has declined – for the time being – to impose an embargo on the country’s oil.

The decision on sanctions was accompanied by a strongly worded statement by the bloc’s foreign ministers condemning an attack this week on the UK’s embassy in Tehran, as well as the decision to expel the British ambassador.

“The council is outraged by the attack … and considers these actions against the UK as actions against the European Union as a whole,” it stated.

The fate of Iran’s oil exports had been one of the key questions leading up to the meeting. Member states broadly agreed on the need to enhance their sanctions against Iran amid growing concerns about the acceleration of the country’s nuclear programme.

But how to achieve that has been a matter of debate. The countries with the biggest oil imports from Iran – Italy, Spain and Greece – have raised concerns about an embargo.

A statement issued after Thursday’s meeting committed the EU to “broaden sanctions” with additional measures aimed at the financial system and the energy sector, among other parts of the economy. Those measures are to be presented by the bloc’s next foreign council in January.

One person familiar with the discussions said that ministers had reached an agreement in principle on an oil embargo, but would require more time to work out the details. Some of the issues that would have to be ironed out, for example, would involve the treatment of pre-existing contracts.

A Spanish official, who did not want to be named, said it seemed sanctions were inevitable and Spain would have to start looking for alternative sources of supply.

Foreign ministers also agreed to expand EU sanctions against Syria, and reiterated the EU’s call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Although the number were not specified, one person familiar with the matter said that about two dozen officials and entities connected to the regime had been added to a list for asset freezes and visa bans. The sanctions also prevent sales to Syria of information technology equipment that can be used to monitor telephone or internet communications.

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