BRUSSELS Oct 4 The European Union is poised to
ban imports of Iranian gas into Europe as part of its efforts to
ratchet up pressure on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear
programme, diplomats said on Thursday.
Diplomats from EU member states have started preparing a
package of sanctions against Iran with a goal of formally
adopting them at a meeting of foreign ministers on Oct. 15 in
Late on Wednesday, they reached a preliminary deal to ban
gas imports, the first measure to win approval in the package,
which also consists of various finance and energy-related
proposals, three EU diplomats said.
"There is agreement on gas," one of the diplomats said,
speaking on condition of anonymity. "The big states back it,
Germany, Britain, France," another one said.
The moves come as European governments and the United States
are searching for new ways to pressure Tehran into scaling back
its nuclear work after diplomacy foundered earlier this year.
Tehran denies its work has any military intentions.
But tensions over the issue are on the rise, with Israel -
widely thought to be the only power in the Middle East with
nuclear weapons - threatening to strike Iranian uranium
The United States, since 1995, has banned U.S. firms from
investing in Iranian oil and gas and from trading with Iran.
The European Union has been much slower to ban Iranian
energy. It imposed an embargo on Iranian oil this year, after
banning the creation of joint ventures with enterprises in Iran
engaged in the oil and natural gas industries in 2010.
Existing sanctions cover investment in Iranian gas, but do
not specifically outlaw imports, which are insignificant In
terms of volume, but symbolic.
The EU sources said Iranian crude reaches Europe via Turkey,
which blends it with Azeri gas and ships it on.
They said there was a risk of the new measure alienating
Turkey, which has a pivotal role to play in its plans to
diversify gas supplies away from dominant supplier Russia, but
it was a risk worth taking.
In any case, one of the sources said Turkey was likely to
ignore the ban.
"There are two possibilities. Either Turkey goes with it or
Turkey maintains imports silently," the source said.
Turkey is renowned for optimising its strategic position by
playing off all its potential partners.
It controls a huge chunk of a planned new export route for
shipping Azeri gas, which would link up with one of two
short-listed pipelines to complete the journey into the EU.
A protracted territorial dispute between current EU
president Cyprus and Turkey has soured ties between Turkey and
the European Union, but one of the sources said they could
probably withstand a ban on Iranian gas.
"Relations between Turkey and Europe are not very good, but
they're not very bad," he said.
(Editing by James Jukwey)