In Bold Step, Europe Nears Embargo on Iran Oil
European countries have taken their boldest step so far in the increasingly tense standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, agreeing in principle to impose an embargo on Iranian oil, French and European diplomats said on Wednesday.
A final decision by the European Union will not come before the end of January and would be carried out in stages to avoid major disruptions in global oil supplies. But the move by some of Iran’s most important oil customers appears to underscore the resolve of Western allies to impose on Iran the toughest round of sanctions to date, increasing pressure on Tehran to stop enriching uranium and negotiate an end to what Western leaders argue is an accelerating program to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran denies any military intent and refuses to stop enrichment of uranium for what it describes as civilian purposes. But it has responded to the threat of new American and European sanctions with a series of military and diplomatic threats. It has test-fired new missiles, announced the production of its first nuclear-fuel rod, warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf, and threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz to shipping, which analysts said could drive oil prices up by at least 50 percent.
Iran has also said that it wants to reopen talks with the West on the nuclear issue, which was interpreted in Paris as an effort by Iran to buy time to continue its program.
The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran’s nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign. Republican presidential candidates are urging stronger measures against Iran, including some who are pushing for the use of military force, to stop the Islamic government from getting nuclear weaponry and to better protect Israel.
Israel has warned that time is running out to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, given that Tehran has been moving its enrichment facilities deep into mountains, making it harder to attack them militarily. Israel has called on the United States and the West to make sanctions more punishing to persuade Iran to negotiate seriously and to make the development of a nuclear weapon more costly for an economy already suffering from an array of financial and trade sanctions.