Iran has halted all oil sales to France and Britain in retaliation for a phased EU ban on Iranian oil that is yet to fully take effect, the Iranian oil ministry said on Sunday.
“Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped ... we will sell our oil to new customers,” spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad Rahbar said in a statement on the ministry’s official website.
“We have taken steps to deliver our oil to other countries in the place of British and French companies,” he said.
The decision was not expected to have a big impact. France last year bought only three percent of its oil − 58,000 barrels a day − from the Islamic republic, and Britain was believed to be no longer importing Iranian oil.
But it was seen as a warning shot to other EU nations that are bigger consumers of Iranian oil, including Italy, Spain and Greece.
Although those countries were not affected by Iran’s announcement on Sunday, they are included in an EU decision to stop buying Iranian oil that was announced last month and which will take full effect from July.
According to the International Energy Agency, Italy sourced 13 percent of its oil, or 185,000 barrels per day, from Iran, while Spain imported 12 percent of its oil needs, or 161,000 bpd, and Greece bought 30 percent of its needs, or 103,000 bpd.
Iran, OPEC’s second-biggest exporter after Saudi Arabia, pumps 3.5 million bpd of which it exports 2.5 million barrels.
The United Nations and Western powers have imposed a raft of sanctions on Iran in an unsuccessful effort to force it to halt its atomic activities.
The Western measures have badly impacted Iran’s economy, but Tehran has responded by ramping up its nuclear activities.
On Wednesday, Iran said it had installed another 3,000 centrifuges to increase its uranium enrichment abilities and was stepping up exploration and processing of uranium yellowcake.
In January, the European Union had imposed an immediate ban on oil imports and a gradual phase-out of existing contracts with Iranian exporters.
The EU embargo was an attempt to try to pressure Iran over a nuclear program the United States and its allies argue is aimed at developing nuclear weapons but which Iran says is for purely peaceful purposes.
Back in January, many Iranian lawmakers and officials called for an immediate ban on oil exports to the European bloc before its ban fully goes into effect in July, arguing that the 27 EU nations account for only about 18 percent of Iran’s overall oil sales and would be hurt more by the decision than Iran.