EU set to implement Iran oil embargo by July
BRUSSELS - European governments are set to implement an Iranian oil embargo by the start of July, giving companies time to phase out existing contracts, EU diplomats said Thursday.
"A deal should be finalised in the coming days" by European Union ambassadors, said one, ahead of Monday talks among EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
"A consensus is taking shape over the transitionary phase," another added.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that the new sanctions against Iran are aimed at "suffocating" its economy and possibly instigating popular discontent.
"Additional unilateral sanctions against Iran have nothing to do with a desire to ensure the regime's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. It is seriously aimed at suffocating the Iranian economy and the well-being of its people, probably in the hope of inciting discontent," he told reporters.
Some countries wanted an earlier, three-month deadline, whereas financially-stressed nations that rely on Iranian crude -- Greece, Italy and Spain -- wanted up to a year.
The EU may also allow Iranian companies to continue repaying debts to European firms with crude instead of cash, an idea raised by Italy. That would mean Tehran having less crude to sell on the market.
EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on January 23 to decide on the new sanctions, part of a concerted effort with the United States to pressure Iran into halting its controversial nuclear programme.
The EU takes in some 450,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil, making it a key market alongside China, which has refused to bow to pressure from Washington, and India.
Iranian oil accounted for 34.2 percent of Greece's total oil imports, 14.9 percent of Spain's and 12.4 percent of Italy's in the first nine months of last year, according to the latest EU statistics.
Oil prices climbed in New York Tuesday on positive US and Chinese economic data and after Saudi Arabia said it would like to keep prices high at around $100 a barrel, analysts said.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said Monday that the kingdom's output could be boosted by around 2.6 million barrels a day to offset a potential cut in Iranian exports.
Iran on Tuesday warned Saudi Arabia to reconsider its vow to make up for any shortfall, saying Riyadh's pledge to step into the market was unfriendly.