LONDON - European refiners are winding down oil purchases from Iran, closing the door on a fifth of the OPEC member's crude exports after the United States imposed sanctions on Tehran, company and trading sources said.
The drop in crude purchases from the Islamic republic could complicate efforts by European governments to salvage the Iranian nuclear deal disavowed by US President Donald Trump last month.
Although European governments have not followed Washington by creating new sanctions, banks, insurers and shippers are gradually severing ties with Iran under pressure from the U.S. restrictions, making trade with Tehran complicated and risky.
Ministers from Germany, France and Britain have urged U.S. officials to shield European companies from the sanctions, but refiners are not taking any chances.
"We cannot defy the United States," said a senior source at Italy's Saras, which operates the 300,000-barrels-per-day (bpd) Sarroch refinery in Sardinia.
Saras is determining how best to halt its purchasing of Iranian oil within the permitted 180 days, the source said, adding: "It is not clear yet what the US administration can do but in practice we can get into trouble."
Refiners including France's Total, Italy's Eni and Saras, Spain's Repsol and Cepsa as well as Greece's Hellenic Petroleum are preparing to halt purchases of Iranian oil once sanctions bite, the sources said.