Iran moves step closer to banning oil sales to EU 

Iranian lawmakers have finalized a draft bill requiring the government to immediately halt crude oil sales to Europe in response to the bloc's decision to ban the purchase of Iranian oil, a member of parliament said Saturday.

Nasser Soudani said the legislature's energy committee completed its work on the bill Saturday and that parliament will debate and vote on it during an open session on Sunday.

"As long as the EU doesn't lift the oil embargo, we won't give them a drop of oil," state TV quoted Soudani as saying. Soudani is deputy chairman of the energy committee.

The European Union imposed an oil embargo against Iran and froze the assets of its central bank on Monday. It was the latest attempt to try to pressure Tehran over a nuclear program the United States and its allies argue is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is for purely peaceful purposes.

The EU sanctions came just weeks after the U.S. approved, but has yet to enact, new sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank and, by extension, its ability to sell its oil.

Many Iranian lawmakers and officials have called for an immediate ban on oil exports to the European bloc before the EU's 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. China, a key buyer of Iranian crude, has criticized the embargo.

Ahmad Qalebani, director of the National Iranian Oil Company, said the EU must either sign long-term oil contracts with Iran now or lose Iranian oil.

"Some European companies still want to receive Iranian oil," Qalebani was quoted as saying by the semiofficial ISNA news agency. "We want those companies to enter transparent talks with us for a long-term contracts or stop purchasing oil from Iran now."

Qalebani said the decision to immediately cut oil exports to Europe has to be approved by the country's top leadership.

If parliament passes the bill to halt oil sales to Europe, the legislation must still be approved by the Guardian Council to become law.

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