by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Jan 4, 2012
Seeking to ramp up pressure on Tehran, European Union governments have reached a preliminary deal on an Iranian oil embargo but are still debating its timing, EU diplomats said Wednesday.
The agreement emerged at a time of high tension between Iran and its Western foes, with Tehran telling the US navy to stay out of the Persian Gulf and threatening to close a vital oil shipping lane in retaliation to new sanctions.
The EU had been divided over whether to impose an Iranian oil ban, but a breakthrough was reached late December after Greece, Spain and other nations that import Iran's crude lifted their objections, diplomats said.
"There is an agreement in principle to forge ahead" with an oil embargo, an EU diplomat told AFP, but added "there is still a lot of work" to agree on when the measure should come into force.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he hoped the EU would adopt the new sanctions at talks with counterparts in Brussels on January 30.
Britain and France have pushed for an embargo to punish Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, which Western powers say is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Tehran rejects the charges.
"We are working on this and things are on track," Juppe said, addressing a press conference with Portuguese counterpart Paolo Portas during a trip to Lisbon.
"We have to reassure some of our European partners who purchase Iranian oil. We have to provide them with alternative solutions. But these alternative solutions exist and I think we can attain the objective by the end of January," he said.
The developments caused oil prices to spike on Wednesday.
EU governments are now negotiating when the embargo should affect existing contracts between Iran and European companies, the diplomats said.
"That's the bone of contention, in terms of timing," one of the diplomats said.
Another issue to resolve is finding alternative sources of oil for countries that rely on Iranian crude.
Oil from Iran in 2010 amounted to 5.8 percent of total EU imports, making Tehran the bloc's fifth-largest supplier after Russia, Norway, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
Spain represents 14.6 percent of Iranian oil imports to Europe, Greece 14.0 and Italy 13.1 percent.
In response to the threat of new sanctions, Iran has warned it could close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil is shipped.
US President Barack Obama on Saturday signed tough new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and financial sector to squeeze the country's crucial oil revenues, most of which are processed by the bank.
The EU is also considering sanctions against Iran's central bank.
The United Nations has slapped four sets of sanctions on Iran and the United States and EU have imposed their own unilateral measures to pressure the Islamic republic's government.
While the West presses ahead with sanctions, Iran and six world powers have yet to agree to resume long-stalled negotiations aimed at convincing Tehran to halt its uranium enrichment programme.
Iran's foreign ministry called on EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton this week to declare a date and venue for the next meeting with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
A spokesman for Ashton countered that Tehran must first answer a letter in which Ashton, who represents the six world powers, offers to resume talks, but without pre-conditions.
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BP sues Halliburton for full cost of Gulf disaster
Washington (AFP) Jan 3, 2012
British oil giant BP is pushing US energy services firm Halliburton to pay for all the costs BP incurred in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the worst environmental disaster in US history. In a US federal court filing, BP said that it was seeking full repayment of damages from Halliburton, alleging it fraudulently putting a defective cement seal on a deepwater well, causing a deadly explos ... read more
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