Iran says planes get fuel; EU bans some for safety

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian planes continue to refuel at airports around the world, an official said on Tuesday, a day after an Iranian news report said aircraft had been denied fuel in Germany, Britain and a Gulf Arab state due to U.S. sanctions.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast looks on during a weekly news conference in Tehran in this November 24, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

The Financial Times said oil major BP had stopped refueling Iranian jets, a move which would add to a growing list of companies shunning trade with the Islamic state amid a U.S.-led drive to isolate Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Iran has been hit by a new wave of international sanctions over its nuclear enrichment activities which the West fears could lead it to make a bomb, something Tehran denies it wants.

The United States has also stepped up unilateral action to isolate Tehran economically. On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed into law sanctions that aim to squeeze the Iran’s fuel imports and further restrict its access to financial services.

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called reports that some countries were refusing fuel supplies to Iranian planes part of a “psychological war.”

“This news is not right. No such limitation has been imposed,” Mehmanparast told a news conference.

“The spread of inaccurate news is done in line with creating a negative atmosphere. It’s a kind of psychological war against our people.”

His comments appeared to ignore the fact that first news of the ban came on Monday from a senior Iranian official. The secretary of the Iranian Airlines Union was quoted by Iran’s ISNA news agency as saying Britain, Germany and the UAE had denied fuel to Iran Air and Mahan Airlines.

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Adding to uncertainties for its passengers, the European Union banned more planes operated by Iran Air, meaning two-thirds of carrier’s fleet is now prohibited from flying into the airspace of the 27-country EU.

An EU spokeswoman said the decision was based purely on safety grounds and had nothing to do with sanctions.

Iran’s conflicting statements about supplies of jet fuel, combined with failure by companies involved to clarify the situation added to the confusion surrounding the situation.

The German Transport Ministry said there was no ban on refueling Iranian flights and a British government source said London was not aware of any cut to supplies and that any such decision would be up to private companies.

A source in the UAE familiar with the issue said a private company there had refused to refuel an Iranian plane, but the UAE had not imposed a ban.

BP declined to confirm the Financial Times report but said: “We fully comply with any international sanctions imposed in countries where we operate.”

Samuel Ciszuk, a senior analyst at IHS Global Insight, said that if the FT report proved correct “it could suggest that BP is trying to be pro-active in managing political relations in the U.S. which are already under tremendous strain because of the Gulf (of Mexico) spill.”

“The last thing they need now is having a U.S. congressman, for example, saying they are helping Iran.”

A UAE-based trading source agreed. “BP has no real assets in Iran so it would make sense,” he said. “It’s harmless for BP and curries favor with the United States. It also makes little difference to Iranian airlines, as there are always other suppliers at airports they can buy fuel from.”

Over the past weeks a number of countries and firms have cut back on imports of Iranian crude oil. Other companies have stopped providing Iran with refined petroleum.

In late June, France’s Total became the latest oil company to stop gasoline sales to Iran. The U.S. law sanctions any company worldwide that exports refined petroleum products to Iran.

Despite being the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, Iran lacks sufficient refining capacity to fulfill its domestic demand and has to import up to 40 percent of its gasoline needs.

The UAE took steps last week to tighten its crucial role as a trading and financial lifeline for Iran. The UAE Central Bank asked financial institutions to freeze the accounts of 40 entities and an individual blacklisted by the United Nations for assisting Iran’s nuclear or missile programmes.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has played down the potential economic impact of sanctions, calling a fourth round of U.N. sanctions as important as a “used handkerchief.”

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Dubai; Simon Webb and Amena Bakr in Dubai and Pete Harrison in Brussels; Editing by Jon Hemming