Iran Urges Europe to Do More to Oppose U.S. Ban on Its Oil Sales

(Bloomberg) -- Iran will make “utmost efforts” to allow the safe passage of tankers in the Persian Gulf region, its deputy foreign minister said, while urging European nations to act more forcefully against U.S. sanctions on its oil exports.

Abbas Araghchi spoke in Paris, where he met with French leaders involved in efforts to defuse a showdown between Iran and the U.S. that’s grown more complicated with Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker last week.

Iran “expects Europe to take a clear stance in opposing the U.S. policies of cutting down Iran’s oil exports to zero,” Araghchi said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

“As an oil producer, Iran will make utmost efforts to guarantee security in the region, and the Strait of Hormuz in particular,” he added in a Tuesday meeting in Paris with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. It won’t “allow shipping disruptions in this sensitive area,” he said.

The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important waterway for energy shipments.

France has been at the forefront of efforts to ease the standoff between Iran and Washington, which started after the U.S. quit an international nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic a year ago and pledged to slash its oil sales to zero. Tensions have worsened since May with a series of attacks on tankers in the Persian Gulf, Iran’s retreat from some of its obligations under the accord, and its threat to quit the agreement altogether if European signatories don’t alleviate the impact of U.S. sanctions on its economy.

In their struggle to keep the nuclear deal from collapsing, European powers have developed a financial channel to allow European companies to continue some trade with Iran without running afoul of U.S. sanctions. With its economy crippled by U.S. sanctions, Iran is demanding a tool that can also process oil sales, its economic lifeline.

European efforts have been complicated by back-to-back seizures of oil tankers. The U.K. grabbed an Iranian vessel off Gibraltar earlier this month, saying it carried contraband cargo, and Iran held a British-flagged tanker on Friday near Hormuz.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the U.K. would receive a “suitable response from Iran” if it would “renounce their foul measure in Gibraltar.”

Stena Bulk, the shipping unit of the British tanker’s owner, Sweden’s Stena AB, said it had direct contact with the crew and that everyone is safe. “This is a first sign that we will soon see more positive progress from the Iranian authorities,” company President Erik Hanell said in a statement.

Carrying Letter

In Paris, Araghchi delivered a letter from Rouhani to French President Emmanuel Macron, who has urged Iran to halt activities forbidden under the agreement in a bid to ease tensions and promote dialogue.

Araghchi and Le Drian had “deep discussions” on the “possible parameters for a de-escalation,” while France underlined Iran must resume “conformity” with the nuclear accord, according to a statement from the French Foreign Ministry. Araghchi said Iran remains open to diplomacy but “will continue to export its oil in any circumstances.”

The military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, repeated a more bellicose stance taken by Iranian hardliners, saying his nation won’t negotiate with U.S. President Donald Trump under any circumstance, Al Jazeera TV reported on Twitter. All U.S. bases in the region will be targeted if Washington decides to wage war, and Iran’s regional allies would be drawn into any U.S. war against the country, Hossein Dehghan said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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