Iran has halted oil shipments to Britain and France, the Oil Ministry said today, in an apparent pre-emptive blow against the European Union's sanctions on Iran's oil exports. The EU imposed tough sanctions against Iran last month, which included a freeze of the country's central bank assets and an oil embargo set to begin in July. Iran's Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi had warned earlier this month that Tehran could cut off oil exports to "hostile" European nations. The 27-nation EU accounts for about 18% of Iran's oil exports.
"Crude oil exports to British and French companies have been halted," a spokesman said on the Oil Ministry's website. "We have our own customers and have no problem to sell and export our crude oil to new customers." Britain's Foreign Office declined comment, and there was no immediate response from French officials. The semiofficial Mehr news agency said the National Iranian Oil Company has sent letters to some European refineries with an ultimatum to either sign long-term contracts of two to five years or be cut off. Last week, state media said Iran was planning to cut off oil exports to six EU nations, including France, but later reports said the nations were only told that Iran has no problem finding replacement customers. (Read more Iran stories.)