BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union member states may review in the next two months an embargo on Iranian oil imports that is scheduled to take effect from July, a senior EU official said on Friday.
For now, the official said there was no economic reason to change plans for the ban, which was agreed in January as part of EU efforts to put pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.
EU member states had agreed to review the embargo plan as soon as this month because of concerns over its potential impact on global crude oil prices and the difficulty countries such as Greece face in finding alternative supplies.
But they have now postponed that review and will examine the issue during May or June instead.
“So far, Greece has come back to us saying that for the time being they seem to be able to handle the situation,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They asked for a possibility of coming back to this in May or maybe June,” he said. “The situation in oil markets is being kept under close review and, if necessary, we will come back to this.”
The official did not address the issue of whether the change to the review schedule was linked to on-going talks with Tehran over its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says it is for peaceful energy and medical purposes.
Negotiations between Iran and major world powers on nuclear issues resumed in Turkey last week after a 15-month hiatus. Another round of talks is expected in Iraq next month, but Iran has said it wants a softening of sanctions first.
Western diplomats say any change in sanctions is out of the question until Iran takes concrete steps to ease Western concerns about its nuclear ambitions.
“The Iranians have a habit of making overtures and then not following up with them,” French Foreign minister Alain Juppe told BFM TV.
“We won’t give ground. The Iranians have to make some gestures and if they do, then in a step by step approach, we’ll see how things can evolve.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represented the major powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - during the talks in Istanbul last week, will update EU foreign ministers on those discussions at a meeting in Luxembourg next week.
Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by XXX.