Iran eases oil supply fears over nuke row

TEHRAN (Reuters) — OPEC heavyweight Iran said on Saturday that it would not disrupt its oil exports as a weapon in its nuclear dispute with the West.Fears that Tehran, the world’s fourth biggest oil exporter, could cut back its crude oil exports or disrupt energy shipments from the Gulf have helped drive oil prices to record highs above $75 a barrel in recent days.

Tension between Iran and the West escalated sharply this month after Tehran said it had produced its first batch of enriched uranium and was forging ahead with plans for industrial-scale output, despite UN demands that it halt all enrichment work.

Western nations, who are threatening to press for UN sanctions, accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons and insist Iran stops enrichment, which has military and civilian uses. Iran says it only wants to produce electricity.

Some Iranian officials have in the past suggested Tehran may use oil as a weapon in the dispute.

But Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri said on Saturday Iran’s oil supplies would not be disrupted.

“We strongly believe there is no reason for sanctions but in any case we will not cut our oil exports,” the minister told Reuters on the sidelines of an energy forum in Doha.

The United Nations Security Council may consider sanctions against Tehran after studying a report due on April 28 from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on whether Iran is meeting its demands for a halt to uranium enrichment. “During the eight year war imposed on us by Iraq we never stopped exporting,” the minister said in reference to the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq conflict.

He also quashed speculation that Iran could redirect exports to customers that were sympathetic to its cause. Iran ships most of its crude to the Far East while the majority of supplies to Europe goes to France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey.

“We will continue to meet our obligations to all of our customers,” Vaziri said.

No Russian deal

In Moscow, a senior Iranian diplomat played down a radio report that Tehran had a “basic agreement” with Moscow to enrich uranium in Russia and said no new deal had been struck.

Earlier on Saturday Iranian state radio had quoted Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA Ali-Asghar Soltanieh as saying only a few technical, legal and financial issues must be ironed out on a joint enrichment project with Russia.

But speaking to Reuters in Moscow, where Iranian officials have held talks with Russian and European counterparts on the nuclear issue, Soltanieh said there had been no new progress on the enrichment talks.

“Of course with the initiative of our Russian friends there have been some discussions with our European friends, but that is all I can say at this stage,” he said. “There is no new agreement. This is the principle agreement we have had before.” Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Iran to allay concerns that Tehran could use domestically produced enriched uranium to make nuclear bombs.

But progress on the deal has been hindered by Iran’s refusal to bow to international demands that it halt all homegrown enrichment work.

A “basic agreement” on enrichment with Russia was previously announced by Iran in February but talks subsequently appeared to stall.

Soltanieh reiterated Iran’s position that its case did not merit Security Council involvement.

“We are appealing to the international community not [to] let this go along the avenue to confrontation,” he told Reuters.

“I advise that, rather than deteriorating the situation, let’s find a ways and a means to let the IAEA do its own job and [for] Iran [to] continue its cooperation,” he said.

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