The European Union is poised to ban imports of Iranian natural gas as part of a
set of new measures to ratchet up pressure on the Islamic Republic over its
nuclear program, diplomats said on Thursday.
Diplomats from EU member
states have started preparing a package of sanctions against Iran with a goal of
formally adopting them at a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on
Late on Wednesday, they reached a preliminary deal to ban gas
imports, the first measure to win approval in the package, which also consists
of various finance- and energy-related proposals, three EU diplomats
“There is agreement on gas,” one of the diplomats said, speaking on
condition of anonymity. “The big states back it, Germany, Britain, France,” another one said.
Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the pressure on Iran
had to be increased until it halted its nuclear program.
Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently called on the international community to
stiffen the economic sanctions against Tehran.
“It is clear that up until
now, despite the fact that the sanctions have taken their toll, that the
Iranians have not in any way slowed down their pursuit of nuclear weapons,” the
Israeli official said.
In Tehran on Thursday, the Grand Bazaar stayed
shut and police patrolled the area as authorities struggled to restore normalcy
a day after security forces clashed with anti-government protesters angered by
the collapse of the country’s currency.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman
told Army Radio that he believed the protests would continue.
He said his
ministry “was perhaps the first to recognize, already weeks ago, that the Arab
Spring will be followed by the Persian Spring.”
He added that this week’s
protest in Tehran “was just the first buds [of that spring].”
protests will increase in the run-up to the Iranian presidential election next
June, he said.
Western countries and international institutions had to be
prepared to help the protesters.
This includes the UN Security Council
and the EU, Liberman added.
“I have no doubt that the Iranian regime is
approaching a critical moment. The big question is what will happen faster, or
which will come [to fruition] first – Iran’s military nuclear plans or the
Persian Spring,” he said. “We have to be prepared for both
On Wednesday, Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor
said that in light of the protests, now was the time to increase sanctions. He
worked this week in Paris with French officials on increasing the sanctions
European governments and the US are searching for fresh
ways to pressure Tehran into scaling back its nuclear program after diplomacy
foundered earlier this year.
Since 1995 the US has banned American
companies from investing in Iranian oil and gas and from trading with Iran. Last
December it adopted steps that prompted buyers in Japan, South Korea and India
to cut Iranian oil purchases and in July it announced sanctions against foreign
banks helping Tehran sell oil.
The European Union has been much slower to
target Iranian energy. It imposed an embargo on Iranian oil this year, after
banning the creation of joint ventures with enterprises in Iran engaged in the
oil and natural gas industries in 2010.
Existing sanctions cover
investment in Iranian gas, but do not specifically outlaw imports, which are
insignificant in terms of volume but have a symbolic importance.
sources said any Iranian gas that reached Europe came via Turkey, which blended
it with Azeri gas and shipped it on.
Greece and Bulgaria are the two EU
nations in prime position to receive gas via Turkey, and one diplomat said
details still had to be decided on how they might be affected.
modalities are still to be worked out,” he said.
Analysts and industry
sources said it would be almost impossible to identify the quantities
“You might have a situation in which physically, an Iranian gas
molecule gets to Europe,” one industry source said on condition of anonymity.
“But this is like inhaling an air molecule from the last gasp of Julius Caesar,
which due to the laws of volume, we all do from time to time.”
diplomats said there was a risk the bloc’s plans to tighten sanctions could
alienate Turkey, which has a pivotal role in the European Commission’s
aspirations to diversify gas supplies away from dominant supplier Russia, but it
was a risk worth taking.
In any case, one of the sources said Turkey was
likely to ignore the ban.
“There are two possibilities: Either Turkey
goes with it or Turkey maintains imports silently,” the source
Ankara controls a huge part of a planned new export route for
shipping Azeri gas, which would link up with one of two pipelines shortlisted to
complete the journey into the EU.
A protracted territorial dispute
between current EU president Cyprus and Turkey has soured ties between Ankara
and the European Union, but one of the sources said relations could probably
withstand a ban on Iranian gas.
“Relations between Turkey and Europe are
not very good, but they’re not very bad,” he said.