EU undeterred by Iran threat on oil cut: trade chief

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 16, 2012 3:33 AM
EU undeterred by Iran threat on oil cut: trade chief

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The European Union trade commissioner brushed off on Thursday the potential impact of any Iranian suspension of oil supplies saying such a threat would not sway Europe from its opposition to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Iran's English language Press TV had said Iran had halted oil deliveries to France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Netherlands and Spain -- its biggest EU customers -- in retaliation for an EU ban on Iranian crude due to take effect in July.

But Iran's Oil Ministry denied the state media report.

The European Union's trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, said Europe would adapt to the impact of any Iranian action and Europe remained committed to halting Iran's nuclear weapons program.

"If they were to cut it off earlier, we would accommodate quicker, that's what we'd do," he told a group of business people and journalists in Hong Kong after a trip to Beijing.

He said the European Union was determined to press Iran to rein in its nuclear ambitions, just as it proclaimed advances in nuclear know-how, including new centrifuges able to enrich uranium much faster.

"Nobody really wants Iran to have nuclear weapons ... We shouldn't change our line because it's a threat by Iran, that's not the way it works."

Iran has long refused to negotiate curbs on its nuclear program, saying it is intended purely for civilian uses, including producing electricity for booming domestic demand.

Iran is the world's No. 5 oil exporter, with 2.6 million barrels going abroad daily, about a fifth of it to EU countries.

Western countries are increasing their sanctions to block Iran's oil exports and central bank financing of trade, and Tehran has resorted to barter to import staples including rice, cooking oil and tea, commodities traders say.

The Obama administration is putting pressure on the European Union and SWIFT, the global organization that facilitates most of the world's cross-border payments, to expel Iranian banks from its network, a new step in the push to deprive Iran of funds, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Ken Wills)