(Adds amount, background)
ANKARA, March 27 Iran aims to increase its
gasoline imports over the next year, a senior Iranian oil
official said on Thursday, as the country has stopped using
domestic petrochemical plants to produce the fuel.
Imports are a sensitive subject for energy-rich Iran as they
have been a target for U.S. sanctions aimed at persuading Tehran
to curb its nuclear activities.
"Iran's fuel imports will surely increase this (Iranian)
year," said the senior official, who asked not to be named.
The Iranian year started on March 21.
He refused to reveal the amount or the possible suppliers,
but media reports suggest that the import of gasoline will be
around 11 million litres.
"Iran will triple gasoline imports in the next Iranian
calendar year," Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency quoted the
head of the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company,
Mostafa Kashkouli, as saying on March 4. "It will be around 11
However, Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in
September that Iran will import several million litres a day of
gasoline to fill the gap between domestic supply and
consumption, according to the Oil Ministry's SHANA website.
Iran has been trying to side-step sanctions on its oil
industry by becoming self-sufficient in gasoline production as
it produces only 60 percent of its domestic gasoline demand and
imports the remaining 40 percent from friendly powers.
Iran lacks refining capacity - in part due to a lack of
foreign investment - forcing it to import 40 percent of its
domestic gasoline demand.
U.S.-led sanctions on foreign companies that help to supply
fuel to Iran have scared off Iran's regular gasoline suppliers,
hitting what is seen as the Islamic Republic's Achilles' heel,
its lack of refining capacity.
The National Iranian Oil Co.'s director of international
affairs in 2010, Ali Asghar Arshi, said Iran had become
self-sufficient in producing gasoline and also other top oil
ministry officials were quoted by Iranian media as saying that
"Iran won't have to rely on imports anymore."
Many analysts were skeptical, saying it was part of the
country's "political and psychological" propaganda to cope with
Iran's plan to increase imports follows an interim deal
agreed in November with world powers under which Tehran has
shelved higher-grade uranium enrichment - a potential path to
atomic bombs - and obtained modest relief from punitive
sanctions in return. The interim accord went into effect on Jan.
Iran has long denied accusations from Western powers and
Israel that it sought to develop the capability to produce
atomic weapons under the cover of its nuclear energy programme.
Alarmed over high pollution levels, Hassan Rouhani's
government has repeatedly said it wants to halt production of
gasoline from petrochemical plants, which started in 2010.
Iran and major powers are seeking a final settlement by a
July deadline under which the West wants Iran to significantly
scale back its nuclear programme.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Jason Neely and Stephen