European governments have approved an embargo on Iranian oil to pressure that country to cease its nuclear program. However, although voting for an immediate halt to any new contracts, they advocated a gradual phase-in of sanctions because of the toll the debt crisis is taking on the European economic situation. In turn, an Iranian politician has called for an immediate cessation of all oil sales to the region.
Reuters reported that Monday's vote by European Union foreign ministers at a Brussels, Belgium, meeting provided for an immediate halt to any new contracts to buy, import or transport crude oil from Iran, as well as a freeze on the assets of Iran's central bank and a ban on all trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and other public bodies. This brings the region close to U.S. policy as the countries hope to induce Iran to halt nuclear enrichment, which the West fears is a step on the road to nuclear weapons, but Iran insists is only for peaceful purposes.
In an effort to avoid further deterioration in troubled economies, the ministers also agreed to phase in the embargo, allowing countries with existing contracts to take until July 1 of this year to end those arrangements.
In response, Ali Fallahian, a senior Iranian official, called for an immediate halt on oil sales to the EU in order to disrupt the embargo. Fallahian, a former intelligence minister and current member of the state Assembly of Experts, said Iran should cease all crude exports. This, he said, would keep European countries from having time to put alternative arrangements in place for their oil supply.
He was quoted saying, "The best way is to stop exporting oil ourselves before the end of this six months and before the implementation of the plan." He also reiterated the country’s threat to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, saying, "If they increase the pressure on our country, we can use the Strait of Hormuz as a tool to decrease the pressures and closing the strait is one of the options."
The U.S. has already said it will not tolerate such a move, which was originally mentioned by First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi at the end of December, when he threatened that Iran would not allow "even one drop of oil" through the Strait. A third of the oil traveling by sea must travel through the Strait of Hormuz.