TEHRAN, July 2 (UPI) -- Iran said over the weekend it can easily replace the European Union as a customer for its oil as EU sanctions over its nuclear program took effect.
Ahmad Qalebani, Iran's deputy oil minister and managing director of the National Iranian Oil Co., told state-owned PressTV Iran's oil industry won't be harmed by the EU oil embargo, which went into effect Sunday.
"Due to the policy of reducing the European share of Iranian oil exports in recent months, the volume of oil imports by the European countries has now reached a level that new substitutes can be easily found for them," Qalebani said Sunday.
He noted Iran exported 500,000 barrels per day to the EU member states last year, but due to the recent policies, that had now dropped to 200,000 to 300,000 barrels.
That, Qalebani said, is only a fraction of Iran's total crude exports of 2 million barrels per day, and so said the EU measures "pose no challenge" to Tehran.
Also expressing confidence was Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi, who said Saturday the country is "completely prepared" to counter the sanctions.
"Iran's oil has its own markets, and, to counter the sanctions, all potential options have been worked out by the government," Qasemi told the state broadcaster.
Tehran, he said, is still finding international markets for its oil, and for years has shrugged off sanctions, making Sunday's imposition on EU ban irrelevant.
Iranian Central Bank Gov. Mahmoud Bahmani told the semiofficial Mehr news agency Tehran will be able to tap countries given waivers by the United States as part of its own sanctions against Iran to replace the lost EU volume.
The U.S. State Department has said China, India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan have received waivers from Washington in exchange for "significantly reducing" oil imports from Iran.
Qasemi also asserted that Iran's sales volume to Europe has been lowered to 18 percent of its exports.
"It does not seem difficult to substitute customers for this much of sales because there are currently countries that have applied for buying Iran's oil," he said.
Saying the EU embargo is "irrational and illegal," the oil minister predicted it wouldn't have any effect on the growth and development of Iran's oil industry.
"Today, we are selling oil to those European customers with whom we had interactions since a long time ago, some of whom had participated in the development of oil projects, [as well as] many countries with a high economic growth and developing countries," Qasemi said.
The EU sanctions called for import contracts on Iranian oil to be terminated by Sunday and for EU insurers to stop providing third-party liability and environmental liability insurance for the transport of Iranian oil.
The new measures "reflect the international community's resolve and our determination, to intensify the peaceful pressure on Iran until it starts to build confidence that its nuclear program is purely peaceful," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said last week.
First approved in January, the measures outlaw the export of key oil sector equipment and technology to Iran as well as new investments in Iranian petrochemical companies.
Trade with Iran's public bodies and central bank in gold, precious metals and diamonds is banned as well.
Iran insists its nuclear enrichment activities are meant solely for civilian and industrial uses, as permitted under international treaties, and argues the International Atomic Energy Agency has failed to turn up any evidence of diversion of nuclear materials toward military uses despite frequent inspections.
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