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Iran oil embargo: How tough are the EU sanctions?

Europe's Iran oil embargo is unprecedented. But the EU may have left the door open for adjustments that could ease pressure on Tehran.

Fishing boats are seen in front of oil tankers on the Persian Gulf waters, south of the Strait of Hormuz, offshore the town of Ras Al Khaimah in United Arab Emirates, last week. Two Iranian lawmakers yesterday said that European union sanctions on Iranian oil exports would lead Tehran to forcibly close the Strait of Hormuz, through which roughly one-fifth of the world’s oil supply is shipped.

Kamran Jebreili/AP

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The European Union's unprecedented sanctions on Iranian oil exports are aimed at seriously punishing Iran over questions about the nature of its nuclear program, delaying military action, and, however likely or unlikely, spurring talks.

The sanctions, agreed upon yesterday in Brussels but not to be implemented until July, comes with possible unintended consequences ranging from oil market disarray at a time of economic crisis to further brinkmanship by the Islamic Republic. Yet some experts feel that the EU's advertised toughness is less than meets the eye, and that the EU may have quietly kicked the can down the road, or at least left open the door for changes that could decrease pressure on Tehran.

“With delays of six months [to implement the sanctions] it seems a bit of a fudge,” says Paul Stevens of Chatham House, a London think tank, who argues that financial sanctions on Iran’s central bank, part of the EU approach, will have a greater effect. “I’m not sure that we’ve thought sanctions through. EU policymakers advocate sanctions, but oil people are not as convinced. The variables on sanctions are hard to gauge, and it is unclear if Saudi Arabia or Libya can supply the shortfall.

"Over decades," he argues, "oil sanctions have proven too complicated and they’ve never actually worked.”

Iran internally sells its nuclear program as part of its rise as a great nation, and claims that its “right for uranium enrichment is nonnegotiable,” as one lawmaker, Ali Aghazadeh, said this week. “There is no reason for Iran to compromise over its rights. But Iran is open to discussions over concerns about its nuclear program.”


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