A series of tit-for-tat statements between Iran and the West showed no signs of abating on Saturday, with Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi telling a news conference that oil exports “will certainly be cut to some European countries.” A decision on “other European countries” would follow later, he said, although he did not specify how soon such measures would be implemented.
The Iranian Parliament was expected to pass a “double-urgency bill” last week that would halt oil exports to the European Union in an attempt to disrupt a transitional period stipulated by the EU in order to give countries there time to find alternative sources of supply before they begin their own ban on Iranian oil imports.
Adding to the exchange was Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, who was quoted on state-run Press TV as rejecting recent comments that Iran is now more willing to carry out attacks on US soil. The “baseless” remarks were part of an “outdated Cold War-era mindset,” Ramin Mehmanparast said.
In a sermon delivered during Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran’s Supreme Leader vowed that the country would continue to progress despite widening international sanctions. Ayatollah Khamenei also warned that any military strike by the United States would result in repercussions "ten times more painful."
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said that an attack on Iran by Israel could happen as soon as April, an estimation that overlaps with an assessment by risk research firm Exclusive Analysis last month. The report saw a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran as becoming “likely” by June of this year, and did not exclude the possibility of the United States being caught by surprise.
Israel has made it clear that it views a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak underscored just before the weekend that dealing with Iran’s nuclear program later may prove to be “too late.” The concern is that at a later stage, Iran could move parts of its nuclear program to underground bunkers, which would make them more difficult to destroy. A recent visit by the IAEA is understood not have made notable progress in addressing some of its suspicions. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.
Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), headed by Saudi Arabia, are equally guarded about the possibility of a nuclear Iran and what has been described as “meddling” in the Gulf. Iran has repeatedly threatened to use its navy to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit point for global oil shipments.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly reassured energy markets that it would tap its “power to provide” in case of a shortfall of Iranian crude. On the other hand, replacing just over two million barrels per day of oil would almost entirely consume Saudi Arabia’s spare capacity.
Not all of Iran’s crude clients are supportive of the latest sanctions. China, which accounts for roughly a quarter of Iranian oil exports with almost 600,000 barrels per day, has refused to follow suit. The People’s Daily, the ruling party newspaper, described the oil embargo plan as “casting a shadow over the global economy.”
In continuing ripple effects emanating from widened sanctions, Swift, the Belgium-based organization that provides the mechanism for many of the world’s electronic financial transactions, said it was working with US and EU authorities “to find the right multilateral legal framework" to address the issues.