Just days before crucial talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear programme, Iran was presenting a defiant face on Wednesday, announcing the halt of oil exports to EU nations and warning the West to drop its “language of force.”
At the same time, chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was promising to lay out “new initiatives” at the talks due to take place in Istanbul on Saturday — as long as the nations on the other side of the table employed a “constructive approach.”
The declarations underlined the high stakes involved in the negotiations, which are widely seen as a last chance to defuse the increasingly tense international showdown over Iran.
Two Iranian broadcasters, Al-Alam and Press TV, reported that Iranian oil exports to Germany had been halted and exports to Italy could soon likewise be stopped, without identifying their sources.
On Tuesday, the two networks said crude exports to Spain had also ended, expanding on a February decision to stop oil sales to France and Britain.
Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi also said on Tuesday that Iran was no longer supplying oil to Greece.
The announcements were portrayed in Iran as pre-emptive punishment against the European Union for imposing an oil embargo on the Islamic republic that is to come into full effect on July 1.
But Spain said it had already stopped buying all Iranian crude more than a month ago to comply with the embargo. And France and Britain bought only negligible amounts of Iranian oil before it was cut off.
The Iranian gestures, nonetheless, showed that Tehran was ready to flex its muscle as OPEC’s second-biggest producer after Saudi Arabia in response to the sanctions by the European Union and others by the United States.
Fear of that has kept global oil prices high, which in turn is increasing the revenue Iran earns on the 2.5 million barrels per day it exports. Last year, Iran generated $100 billion (76 billion euros) from oil sales abroad.