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Iran says EU will not impose oil sanctions
TEHRAN (Reuters) - The European Union "definitely" will not impose sanctions on OPEC member Iran's oil exports because such a measure would harm the global crude market, Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said on Sunday.
EU leaders called on Friday for more sanctions against Iran by the end of January, in an effort to increase pressure on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.
"Our policy is sustainable supply of oil to Europe ... Iran is a major oil producer and any sanctions on our oil export would harm the global market," Qasemi told a news conference.
Last week, EU foreign ministers agreed to develop new sanctions on Iran's energy, transport and banking sectors.
Iran has been hit by four rounds of U.N. sanctions and international sanctions for defying to halt its sensitive nuclear activities, which the United States and its allies say is aimed at building bombs.
In its latest report, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released new evidence confirming international concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies the allegation, saying it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.
Iranian authorities say the sanctions have had no impact on Iran's economy, and have defied the U.N. Security Council's demands to halt the country's sensitive nuclear work.
"We (would) have no problem to find a replacement for the EU oil market," Qasemi said.
International sanctions have kept foreign investors away from the Islamic state, OPEC's number two oil producer with 2.6 million barrels a day oil exports.
Iran's economy is 40 percent reliant on oil revenue.
The United States, Britain and Canada announced new measures against Iran's energy and financial sectors last month, and France proposed new sanctions, including freezing the assets of its central bank and suspending purchases of its oil.
France, backed by Germany and Britain, has led the push to ban its crude, but some states, notably Greece, have expressed reservations, because of their reliance on Iranian oil.
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said attempts to impose a ban on Iran's oil exports due to a rift among the European Union members.
"When they (EU) have so many differences among themselves then they should know the unity they have is only superficial," Salehi said, Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency reported.
"Each member goes after its own maximal interests ... they have this profiteering approach and, with such a rift, such sanctions cannot be imposed."
Concerns over the OPEC producer's nuclear program have increased since a group of hardline students stormed the British embassy in Tehran last month, after Britain imposed new sanctions on the country.
Britain closed its embassy and expelled all Iranian diplomats from London. The fallout spread when several other countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands, recalled their envoys.
Beijing and Moscow, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, have appealed for cool heads over fresh sanctions which have made it more difficult for Iran to develop its massive gas reserves.
However, Qasemi said a new gas reservoir was discovered in Iran's Caspian Sea with its reserves standing at 50 trillion cubic feet.
"It is predicted that after examination of exploration, the gas in this field would be much more than this," Qasemi added.
Iran sits on the world's second-largest natural gas reserves after Russia, but international sanctions have frustrated plans to develop the sector for export, and booming domestic demand has made Iran the third-largest consumer and a top-30 importer.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and David Hulmes)
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