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Iran’s oil minister has played down the impact of EU oil sanctions that came into effect on Sunday, saying the regime was not concerned about the loss of customers for its crude.
“Iran has many friends across the world and is not concerned about the sale of its oil at all,” said Rostam Ghasemi on Sunday according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Mr Ghasemi said sanctions had had no impact on Iran so far, and would not have after the new ban, which prevents EU countries from purchasing Iranian oil or insuring tankers that are shipping it.
Ahmad Ghalebani, the head of the National Iranian Oil Company, said in an interview with a government-run newspaper that Iran could “easily” find a substitute for its oil exports to Europe.
“Other customers have replaced Europe so far and new customers will definitely replace [Iran’s] total crude exports to Europe by next month,” he said.
Last Thursday, the US issued a last-minute exemption from its Iran-related sanctions to China, which purchases almost 9 per cent of its total oil imports from the Islamic Republic. After a pricing dispute earlier in the year led to imports from Iran slipping, China boosted its Iranian crude purchases by 35 per cent in May, returning its monthly imports to 2011 levels. The country has long spoken out against the US-led sanctions regime.
“China has always been opposed to unilateral sanctions, based on one’s domestic laws, against another country,” said Hong Lei, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, last week. “Even less will it accept such unilateral sanctions to be imposed on a third country.”
Iran’s crude exports to European countries reached 500,000 barrels a day in 2011, but have since fallen to 200,000 bpd, according to the country’s oil ministry.
Oil traders say Iran’s exports dropped sharply in June, as pressure from the sanctions regime tightened. South Korea, the fourth-largest buyer of Iranian oil, said it would halt imports from the country when the EU sanctions came into effect.
Government officials continue to deny any impact of international sanctions on the economy, but ordinary Iranians are feeling the bite. Restrictions on imports, a weakening currency and the economic policies of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad have combined to send consumer prices up sharply.
The price of chicken and red meat has increased 95 per cent and 32.5 per cent respectively over the past year, the Central Bank of Iran reported this week. Other staples have also seen rapid inflation in the past 12 months: grain prices are up 56 per cent, fruit 81.7 per cent and vegetables 92.3 per cent.
The devaluation of Iran’s currency, another big factor in domestic inflation, has accelerated since negotiations between Tehran and world powers over the future of its nuclear programme came close to collapse in mid-June. The rial has fallen 15 per cent against the dollar in the past two weeks.
It is unclear how significantly the new EU sanctions that came into effect on Sunday will exacerbate the country’s economic troubles. But regardless, Iran’s embattled leaders say they are ready to face the challenge.
“The government has established a taskforce to confront dastardliness of Zionists [Israel] and their western agents and leave behind the current problems,” said Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, the vice-president.