Israel, US praise EU embargo of Iranian oil

Netanyahu lauds "strong, quick pressure" on Islamic Republic; Tehran labels move "psychological warfare."

By REUTERS
January 24, 2012 01:21
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu broad gesture 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Israel welcomed the EU’s decision Monday to significantly step up sanctions against Iran, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calling the moves a “step in the right direction.”

Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said that while it was too early to tell what the effect of the sanctions would be, “strong, quick pressure” on the Islamic Republic was needed.

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At a meeting in Brussels, the EU’s foreign ministers decided to impose a phased ban on Iranian oil imports, and – among other economic measures – to freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank.

Netanyahu has been calling for “crippling” sanctions against Iran, including an embargo of Iranian oil, for months.

He said that Iran, to this day, was “continuing to build nuclear weapons without hindrance.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, at a meeting in Vienna of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said he hoped the EU’s sanctions would obviate the need for more, even harsher measures.



“This is an important step that demonstrates Europe’s understanding and determination to deal with the world’s greatest threat,” Lieberman said, adding he hoped this would serve as a “warning signal for Tehran” that would lead to a change in its policies.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post that the effectiveness of the sanctions could already be evaluated in a number of weeks. Russia, China and other countries that would continue to import Iranian oil would still not make up for the massive loss to Iran’s economy as a result of the EU’s move, he said.

“If there will be a 50 percent drop in Iran’s oil exports it will be significant,” Ayalon said. “And then whatever they do sell will, from their standpoint, be sold under less favorable conditions, in terms of price and payments.”

The EU’s move indicated that they understand what Israel had been saying for years: That the Iranian regime was “dangerous, extremist and determined,” and that only a serious threat to the regime would get its leaders to alter their behavior, he said.

Ayalon added these steps were important because they placed the Iranians on the “horns of a dilemma.”

If in the past the question was what would the West do to stop Tehran, now the Iranian leaders would be faced with the dilemma: Do they stop their nuclear program, or continue and face the very real economic and social consequences.

The unprecedented effort to take Iran’s 2.6 million barrels of oil per day off international markets has already had an effect, pushing down Iran’s rial currency and causing a surge in the cost of basic goods for Iranians. Iran is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world.

The Obama administration applauded Europe’s decision and said the United States and its international partners were committed to preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Europe’s ban on imports of Iranian crude oil and moves to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank were “another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement.

Iran on Monday rejected new sanctions imposed by the European Union on its oil as “psychological warfare,” saying they would worsen the stand-off over the Islamic state’s nuclear program.

The “European Union sanctions on Iranian oil are psychological warfare... Imposing economic sanctions is illogical and unfair but will not stop our nation from obtaining its rights,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by state television, referring to Iran’s nuclear energy ambitions.

Also on Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told the official news agency IRNA that the more sanctions were imposed on Tehran over its uranium enrichment work, “the more obstacles there will be to solve the issue.”

One Iranian politician responded by renewing a threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, an oil exporting route vital to the global economy, and another said Tehran should cut off oil to the EU immediately.

That might hurt Greece, Italy and other ailing economies that depend heavily on Iranian crude and, as a result, won as part of the EU agreement a grace period until July 1 before the embargo takes full effect. This is expected to give them ample time to find alternative oil sources.

A day after a US aircraft carrier, accompanied by a flotilla that included French and British warships, made a symbolically loaded voyage into the Gulf in defiance of Iranian hostility, the widely expected EU sanctions move was likely to set off further bellicose rhetoric.

As a bloc, the EU is Iran’s second-biggest customer for crude after China. In addition to the oil embargo and freeze on the Iranian central bank’s assets, the EU foreign ministers also banned trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and state bodies.

Following the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: “I want the pressure of these sanctions to result in negotiations.”

“I want to see Iran come back to the table and either pick up all the ideas that we left on the table... last year... or to come forward with its own ideas,” she said.

Iran has said lately that it is willing to hold talks with Western powers, though there have been mixed signals on whether conditions imposed by either side make new negotiations likely.

A member of Iran’s influential Assembly of Experts, former intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, said Tehran should respond to the delayed-action EU sanctions by stopping sales to the bloc immediately, denying the Europeans time to arrange alternative supplies and damaging their economies with higher oil prices.

“The best way is to stop exporting oil ourselves before the end of this six months and before the implementation of the plan,” the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

He also reiterated that Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz.

Washington has said it will not tolerate any closure, a position underlined by Sunday’s passage through the strait of the US flotilla centered around the carrier Abraham Lincoln, accompanied by two European frigates, Britain’s Argyll and France’s La Motte-Picquet.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat

While Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, possibly aware of their impending arrival, had backed away on Saturday from a threat made by a vice president last month to prevent “even one drop of oil” passing through the strait if the West embargoed Iran’s crude, a senior member of parliament said on Monday that the closure remained an option.

“If any disruption happens regarding the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed,” Mohammad Kossari, deputy head of parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, told Fars.

While the Western powers were at pains to describe their naval movement through the strait as routine, a view echoed by the Revolutionary Guards, they also stressed its symbolism.

“On this occasion HMS Argyll and a French vessel joined a US carrier group transiting through the Strait of Hormuz, to underline the unwavering international commitment to maintaining rights of passage under international law,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

In Paris, spokesman Thierry Burkhard said: “It’s a sign to Iran if they want to consider it like that.”

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