Two months ago I complained that Iran’s official media was busy making bold but false claims. In February Iran announced that it would no longer export oil to the U.K. and France, two countries that led calls for tougher sanctions, including the EU ban of Iranian crude slated for July. This seemed like a natural counter-punch after European-Iranian relations imploded in late 2011 and sanctions were announced in January. Instead of Iran waiting to be embargoed, they would pursue a “preemptive embargo,” and cut off European refiners before the July 1 deadline. But as I wrote then:
[…] the French stopped importing any considerable amount of Iranian crude late last year. Christophe De Margerie, CEO of Total SA–France’s largest oil company–confirmed so on January 27 when speaking to Bloomberg. The Wall Street Journal reports today that “Total, which imported virtually all the Iranian oil destined for the French market for its refineries, stopped buying crude in December.” The U.K., for their part, imported an inconsequential 11,000 barrels per day in the first half of 2011, according to IEA data. Marlene Holzner, energy spokeswoman for the European Commission (the executive office of the EU), said today that EU data shows the U.K imported zero barrels of Iranian crude in the second half of 2011. It’s awfully hard to cut exports to a country that hasn’t imported your product in seven months.
Regardless of the facts, state media pulled the same stunt this week, announcing that Spain and Greece were also denied oil.
On Tuesday, Spain’s Ministry of Energy responded quickly with official data showing that Spain halted imports months ago. Spokesmen from Repsol and Cepsa—Spain’s largest refiners—confirmed that imports were severed in January and February. According to a Repsol spokesman, “We stopped sourcing crude from Iran in January so the halt has no material effect on our supplies, which we have replaced with a number of sources, mainly Saudi crude.” Cepsa’s spokesman also said his company had not lifted oil from Iran in weeks and was not planning to soon.
Greece is the most vulnerable EU country because it is dependent on Iranian crude and suffers from an ongoing economic crisis. But on April 5, Reuters cited a senior executive at Hellenic, Greece’s top refiner, who said all purchases were suspended because sanctions had made it impossible to pay the Iranians. The Greeks appear to have cut ties with Iran, though not by choice. They certainly were not cut off by Iran prematurely to send a larger political point.
Just yesterday, Iran’s Arabic-language network, Al-Alam, reported that Germany would be cut off soon as well. But German imports of Iranian crude averaged only 8,000 bpd in the third quarter of 2011—a sum small enough to be considered laughable. Press TV, another state-owned media outlet, announced on Tuesday that Italy would be the next victim of a preemptive embargo. Italian refiners reached for comment have denied this is the case, saying they’ve received no notification.
While sanctions have yet to change Iran’s nuclear posture, tough measures adopted by the EU and Washington have forced Iranian officials to invent victories where there are none. Iran’s “preemptive embargo” is a joke.