Tehran takes step four months ahead of EU import ban amid heightening political tensions over country’s enriching of uranium
Iran announced on Sunday that it had stopped selling crude oil to British and French companies, in a move that may put further pressure on the price of oil amid heightening political tensions.
The price of Brent crude – the benchmark for oil – had been rising last week because of tensions with Tehran, which had warned it might cut oil supplies to the Netherlands, Greece, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy in retaliation for Europe’s latest sanctions.
On Sunday, a spokesman was quoted on the Iranian oil ministry’s website as saying: “Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped … we will sell our oil to new customers. We have our own customers … The replacements for these companies have been considered by Iran.”
The EU has already agreed to stop importing Iranian crude oil from 1 July in an effort to stop Iran enriching uranium.
But BP is among a number of major companies that have already stopped importing oil from Iran, triggering speculation that Sunday’s announcement was just political sabre-rattling.
Tensions with the west have escalated with Iran last week making announcements about progress in its nuclear programme.
Iran says it is using the uranium for civilian purposes, but it can also be used to build nuclear warheads.
Europe has reportedly taken measures to reduce imports from Iran in advance of the sanctions, although the biggest impact on prices would come from any military action to close the strait of Hormuz, through which about 35% of seaborne-traded oil moves.
Brent registered its fourth weekly consecutive gain last week, having fallen back following expectations of reduced demand caused by slower-than-expected economic growth in many European economies.
Last week, when local state media in Iran reported that oil exports to six European countries had been halted, an oil ministry spokesman denied the reports, saying such a move would be announced by the country’s supreme national security council.
The statement on Sunday with regards to the UK and France was said to have been made by Alireza Nikzad, a spokesman for the oil ministry.
Data from the US energy information administration shows that China, Japan, India and Italy were the largest importers of Iranian oil in 2010.
Iran relies on crude sales for 80% of its exports revenue, which will be the main source of any foreign currencies into the country.
from Jill Treanor