What's behind Europe's tough stance on Iran?
European powers have agreed in principle to embargo Iranian oil, the lifeblood of Iran's economy, adding to tough sanctions already in place.
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“The report shook people up, and Iranians were seen as dissembling,” Mr. Whitman says, “while they blithely go along towards weaponization.”Skip to next paragraph
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Europe is Iran’s biggest trading partner, according to European Commission figures. About 90 percent of Iran’s exports to Europe are energy related, and Europe takes between 450,000 and 550,000 barrels of Iranian oil a day, rivaling China’s 600,000 barrels as Iran’s biggest buyer. Thus EU oil sanctions would exert significant leverage. European oil imports account for 18 percent of Iran’s oil sales abroad, while a US embargo simply keeps the United States from buying any oil from Iran.
Sanctions gained momentum after Iran’s Nov. 29 attack on the British Embassy in Tehran, and were reportedly sealed by EU assurances to the Greeks that any oil shortfalls resulting from a boycott of Iranian oil would be compensated.
In the Jan. 23 meeting, EU ministers will work out the how and when of the embargo. Italy has proposed “phased sanctions” to take effect over three to six months to allow for supply to adjust to an embargo, particularly important in struggling EU economies. Iran owes Italy’s energy giant ENI some $2 billion, which Iran is repaying in oil; the issue was suddenly in dispute days ago, but Iranian authorities have confirmed the contract terms.
France may push the EU for collective sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank, the main conduit for oil revenues, following the lead of the US.
Some critics say Iran is in political disarray, and that sanctions may aid forces there that want conflict, or create dynamics or cause mistakes that bring conflict. Rouzbeh Parsi of the EU Institute of Strategic Studies in Paris says the problem is that sanctions and a military response are portrayed as the only options for dealing with Iran.
“Our policy is on autopilot,” he argues. “There is no creative thinking on where this ends up. The EU doesn’t know how to play the ball. There’s sanctions and nothing else, which plays to those that want a military solution.
“The EU is voluntarily cutting its [energy] imports, and there isn’t much else it can sanction from Iran, and we are now coming to the end of that game,” Mr. Parsi adds. “The danger of sanctions ... is that people think there isn’t anything else to do.”
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