TEHRAN, Iran ó Iran has halted oil shipments to Britain and France, the Oil Ministry said Sunday, in an apparent pre-emptive blow against the European Union after the bloc imposed sanctions on Iranís crucial fuel exports.
The EU imposed tough sanctions against Iran last month, which included a freeze of the countryís central bank assets and an oil embargo set to begin in July. Iranís Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi had warned earlier this month that Tehran could cut off oil exports to ďhostileĒ European nations. The 27-nation EU accounts for about 18 percent of Iranís oil exports.
ďCrude oil exports to British and French companies have been halted,Ē Oil Ministry spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad-Rahbar said on the ministryís shana.ir website. ďWe have our own customers and have no problem to sell and export our crude oil to new customers.Ē
Britainís Foreign Office declined comment, and there was no immediate response from French officials.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency said crude exports were halted Sunday to the two countries. It also said the National Iranian Oil Company has sent letters to some European refineries with an ultimatum to either sign long-term contracts of two to five years or be cut off.
Mehr did not specify which countries were sent the ultimatum, but Spain, Italy and Greece are among Europeís biggest buyers of Iranian oil.
Iranís targeting of Britain and France appeared to be a political decision to punish the two countries for supporting tougher sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Sundayís announcement follows a flurry of contradictory signals by Iran about backlash against the EU for imposing a boycott on Iranian oil.
Last week, state media said Iran was planning to cut off oil exports to six EU nations, including France, but later reports said the nations were only told that Iran has no problem finding replacement customers for the European shipments.
The EU sanctions, imposed last month, were part of Western efforts to target Iranís critical oil sector in attempts to rein in Tehranís nuclear program.
The West fears Iranís nuclear program aim to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies the allegations, and says the program is for peaceful purposes like producing electricity and medical isotopes.
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