* U.S. bill targets Iranian fuel imports due nuclear row
* Iran shrugs off impact of such punitive measures
* Experts say sanctions would raise prices, not stop supply
(Adds quotes, background)
TEHRAN, Dec 16 A senior Iranian oil official
said on Wednesday a move by U.S. lawmakers to target the Islamic
Republic with fuel sanctions would not cause any problems
because Tehran had many suppliers.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved
legislation to impose sanctions on foreign companies that help
to supply fuel to Iran, a measure lawmakers hope will deter the
country from pursuing its nuclear programme. [ID:nN15243629]
"They cannot succeed," said Hojjatollah Ghanimifard, vice
president of investment affairs at the state National Iranian
Oil Company. "We have a long list of suppliers of gasoline," he
Iran is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, but lacks
sufficient refining capacity to meet domestic fuel needs,
forcing it to import up to 40 percent of its gasoline
This burdens the budget and also makes it vulnerable to any
punitive measures that targets the trade, although Iranian
officials have repeatedly shrugged off the impact of sanctions
imposed over its disputed nuclear ambitions.
The House bill authorises President Barack Obama to levy
sanctions on energy companies that directly provide gasoline to
Iran, along with the firms that provide insurance and tankers to
facilitate the fuel shipments. The Senate is likely to approve a
similar bill, but it is uncertain how soon it will vote.
The legislation would expand an existing U.S. law that seeks
to punish foreign companies that invest more than $20 million a
year in Iran's energy sector. The sanctions include preventing
companies in violation from getting financial assistance from
U.S. institutions such as the Export-Import Bank.
Western firms have become increasingly wary of investing in
Iran due to the row over its nuclear work, which the West fears
is aimed at making bombs, although companies from energy-hungry
Asia are seen as less susceptible to such pressures.
Iran denies the charge and says it needs nuclear power
plants to generate electricity so that it can export more oil
As the United States has stepped up pressure on firms doing
business with Iran, a number of past suppliers such as BP and
Indian refiner Reliance have backed away from providing fuel.
But imports have largely been maintained as companies such
as European trading firms Trafigura and Vitol, Kuwait-based
International Petroleum Group and Malaysia's Petronas step into
the breach, traders have said.
"We can receive the amount of gasoline we need," said
Ghanimifard. "We do not even bother about these kind of
Some energy experts have said fuel sanctions on Iran would
raise prices but not stop supplies because the country has
porous borders and a history of smuggling petroleum products.
If a similar bill passes the Senate, the final legislation
would impose the harshest sanctions yet approved by Congress to
protest Iran's nuclear programme.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Alison Williams)