By Stephen Castle and Alan Cowell, New York Times, January 23, 2012
BRUSSELS — The 27 nations of the European Union on Monday increased pressure on Iran over its nuclear program by agreeing to ban oil imports.
“This has shown the resolve of the European Union on this issue and of the international community, and it is absolutely the right thing to do,” said the British foreign secretary, William Hague, who added that the details would be made public later Monday. It was, he said, “an important decision and it will be a major strengthening of the sanctions applied.”
Under the deal, the members agreed not to sign new oil contracts with Iran and to end existing ones by July 1, the ministers said in a statement.
The embargo will cover imports of crude oil, petroleum products and petrochemical products. It will also cover the export of key equipment and technology for the sector.
The assets of the Iranian central bank within the European Union will be frozen with limited exemptions to permit the continuation of legitimate trade, the statement said.
One exemption was designed to allow the execution of existing oil contracts, said one diplomat who was not authorized to speak publicly.
“Trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Iranian public bodies and the central bank will no more be permitted, nor will the delivery of Iranian-denominated banknotes and coinage to the Iranian central bank,” the ministers’ statement said. “A number of additional sensitive dual-use goods may no more be sold to Iran.”
The accord allows for a review, to be made before May 1, of the economic impact of the sanctions on countries, including Greece, which rely heavily on Iranian oil. Greece has sought more time to find new sources of oil to soften the impact on its debt-crippled economy.
Despite giving some flexibility for Greece, the decision was a significant escalation of the confrontation with Iran over fears that it is seeking nuclear weapons capability. In recent years, Tehran has faced an expanding catalog of economic penalties imposed by the United Nations, European nations and the United States. It was not clear what the European nations planned to do next if Iran simply rejected the latest measures.
“These tough sanctions are an essential next step in making clear that we expect Tehran to change its ways and to prove that its nuclear program is not arms related,” the Dutch foreign minister, Uri Rosenthal, said. “Now is not the time to speculate on any further measures or whether they are on the table or not.”
Iran insists that its nuclear program is for civilian uses only and has threatened to retaliate against intensifying sanctions by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic corridor for Western energy supplies.
Diplomats say there is a risk that governments in Asia, which rank among Iran’ s most important customers for its oil, will step in to fill the gap left by European buyers and the West is expected to increase efforts to persuade them not to do so.
Mr. Hague also said that the European Union was committed to a dual-track strategy and was open to negotiations with the Iranians over their nuclear program.
The meeting took place against a backdrop of growing tension between Iran and the West over the nuclear enrichment program. The standoff has promoted fears that the dispute could escalate with a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Mr. Hague said the measures undertaken by the European Union were “peaceful and legitimate measures.”
“They are not about conflict,” he said. “I hope Iran will come to its senses on this issue and agree to negotiate.”
In recent days Iran has signaled readiness to resume talks suspended a year ago in Turkey with the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain. But its terms for resuming the talks were not clear.
Reinforcing Western diplomacy with a display of military muscle, an American aircraft carrier, the Abraham Lincoln, steamed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf, the United States Navy reported on Sunday. The British Ministry of Defense said later that it was accompanied by British and French warships.
About one-fifth of the world’s oil supplies passes through the strategic strait, and Iran has in the past said it would respond to tightened sanctions by closing it.
“Any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz would be illegal and I believe would be unsuccessful,” Mr. Hague said on Monday.
No new contracts for oil from EU countries, but the danger remains that Japan and China could and would likely continue to purchase Iran's oil, and in so doing, render these heightened sanctions somewhat irrelevant by making up the difference in oil sales/purchases.
Iran depends on the sale of oil in order to continue to operate as a country. Her nuclear ambitions, whether or not they are a ruse to provoke the West and to achieve the kind of negative attention that insecure bullies in most high schools would literally "die for," are nevertheless more than a little disturbing, especially when we have one of the Republican candidates for President, Rick Santorum, announcing that a military attack on Iran is "inevitable."
Clearly, the leaders in Europe neither want nor expect such an attack, at least not imminently, and they are very careful to portray their decision as "peaceful" and not a provocation to military action.
Rogue states, because of their "rogue status" are continually "begging for a fight" just to prove their strength and to disprove their critics. They are the bane of the schoolyard, the bane of the street gangs, the bane of the underground world of drug dealers, and yet, they are also the sandpaper against which the rest of the world must scrape, if they want to deal with the "rogue" and the rogue knows this better than anyone.
Rogue states like Iran, North Korea and formerly Libya have generated, (and two of them continue to generate), considerable tension in their attempt to discombobulate world diplomacy, the balance of nuclear weapons and the focus of countries like the U.S., especially recently over the potential blockage of the Strait of Hormuz.
Incrementalism, such as that introduced in the form of these European Union sanctions, is often not successful when confronting a "rogue" individual or a "rogue" state. Rogues do not "do" diplomacy; they think such approaches are for "wimps" and they are anything but "wimps" especially in their own eyes.
They are bent on brinkmanship; they are determined to demonstrate that their enemies will "blink" first in all circumstances, no matter how high the tensions.
Let's keep watching as this drama approaches some kind of denoument...hopefully at the negotiating table, not through the arsenals of missiles, torpedoes and bombs.
And this, from CNN website, January 27, 2012
Iran considers preempting European Union oil embargo
Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Iran said its parliament would consider preemptively halting shipments of oil to Europe (WSJ) in response to a European Union embargo on Iranian oil set to come into effect in July. The EU decision to ban Iranian oil, decided earlier this week, is part of a larger international effort to sanction Iran over its nuclear program, which the West contends is for the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.
Iran's announcement, which already sent oil prices higher on Thursday, could cause significant damage to Europe's already beleaguered economies if Iran's parliament sanctions the plan on Sunday (Reuters). Iran has also called on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to prevent Saudi Arabia from filling the potential oil gap.