Europe will agree sanctions banning the purchase of oil from Iran by the end of the month, William Hague, the foreign secretary, said on Sunday as Saudi Arabia promised it could boost output to make up the shortfall.
Mr Hague was speaking as part of what appeared to be a concerted ramping up of pressure on Iran from the EU. His German and French counterparts sent the same message in separate interviews, insisting that the Iranian regime was continuing its work on nuclear weapons and additionally threatening to block dealings with its Central Bank.He repeated long-standing government policy that military action was being neither ruled in or out, but said: “This is an increasingly dangerous situation that Iran is developing a military nuclear programme.”Our sanctions are part of getting Iran to change course and to enter negotiations.”
Israel, the United States, the EU and Iran’s Arab neighbours in the Gulf, mostly hostile, are engaged in a complex game of threat and counter-threat with Iran in the hope of persuading it to back down from its nuclear programme without having to use force, which even its proponents admit could have disastrous consequences.Saudi Arabia’s oil production currently stands at 10 million barrels per day, against a potential capacity estimated at 12.5 million, though whether it could in practice achieve that has been questioned. Iran is the second-largest producer in OPEC, the oil cartel, producing 3.5 million barrels per day.
While proposing sanctions, the West also fears that they could trigger a rise in the oil price, damaging already fragile economies further.The Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, said in a newspaper interview at the weekend that the country was “prepared to meet the increase in global demand as a result of any circumstances”. This brought an angry response from Iran, whose OPEC representative, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, warning that a compensatory increase would “not be considered friendly”.”If the oil producing nations on the Persian Gulf decide to substitute Iran’s oil, then they will be held responsible for what happens,” he said.
Iran has already threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz if oil exports are sanctioned, an act which the United States said would be tantamount to an act of war.The brinkmanship may be aimed at influencing Israel as much as Iran.Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and defence minister, Ehud Barak, are both thought to favour a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.They have refused to promise the Obama administration that it would at least receive advance warning of such an attack – a refusal likely to be discussed by General Martin Dempsey, the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who is to visit Israel later this week. – Thetelegraph