Iran pledged to counter the impact of a European Union oil embargo which took full effect on Sunday, saying it had built up $150 billion in foreign reserves to protect itself.
The EU ban on crude imports is part of a push by Western countries aimed at choking Iran’s export earnings and forcing it to curb a nuclear programme they fear includes weapons development. Tehran says it has no such plan.
“We are implementing programmes to counter sanctions and we will confront these malicious policies,” Mehr news agency quoted central bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani as saying. He said the effects of the sanctions were tough but that Iran had built up $150 billion in foreign reserves.
The EU banned new contracts for imports of Iranian crude in January, but allowed existing ones to continue until July 1. EU firms are also barred from transporting Iranian crude or insuring shipments under the sanctions.
“They signal our clear determination to intensify the peaceful diplomatic pressure,” British foreign secretary William Hague said in a statement. So far, sanctions have not forced Iran into concessions on its nuclear programme - in fact it demands that they stop before it will take steps to curb uranium enrichment - and France and Britain have signalled more measures could come.
The US has imposed a new round of sanctions that could punish countries dealing in Iranian oil, although it gave exemptions to 20 oil buyers. “All options have been planned in government to counter sanctions,” Iranian oil minister Rostam Qasemi said in comments on the ministry's website. Qasemi said oil importers would be the big losers if a blockade leads to price rises.
But there are signs of the embargo having an impact on Iran’s economy. Its oil exports,which according to the EU represent half the government's income — have fallen by 40% this year.