TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's OPEC governor said Tuesday a European Union embargo on Iranian oil would be "economic suicide" for Europe, the latest stiff statement reflecting Iranian concern about the prospect of deeper sanctions over its nuclear program.
Iran is OPEC's second largest oil producer, and oil exports account for 80 percent of Iran's foreign currency income. Iran sells about 20 percent of its oil exports to Europe.
European nations are considering whether to go along with new U.S. legislation outlawing transactions with Iran's central bank, indirectly limiting Iranian oil shipments by making it harder for customers to pay for them. The law takes effect later this year.
Iran has reacted with a string of strong pronouncements. It threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, where most of the Gulf's oil exports pass, it scheduled war games in the area of the strait, it warned the U.S. not to send an aircraft carrier back into the Gulf and now it is cautioning Europe over the consequences of abandoning Iranian oil.
"Applying the scenario of sanctions on Iran's oil exports to EU members would be economic suicide for the member countries," the semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted OPEC governor Mohammad Ali Khatibi as saying.
"Regarding the economic crisis in the eurozone, imposing any sanction on Iran's oil will push European countries into a deeper crisis," Khatibi said. The European currency is already under pressure because of debt and financing problems facing some of its members.
At issue is Iran's nuclear development program. The U.S., Israel and others charge that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Their case was bolstered by a report from the International Atomic Energy late last year, publishing what it said was evidence that Iran was employing methods and equipment used in making bombs.
Iran has consistently denied that, saying its nuclear program is peaceful, aimed at producing electric power and isotopes for cancer treatment.
Iran urged Saudi Arabia to rethink its offer to offset losses in the world oil market if Iran cannot export its share. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation, is a bitter enemy of Shiite Iran.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi, in comments published Sunday, said, "We are prepared to meet the increase in global demand as a result of any circumstances."
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi asked Al-Naimi to consider the issue with "contemplation and wisdom," the official IRNA news agency reported Tuesday.
Salehi told IRNA, "I think the comment from Saudi Arabia on increasing oil production was only the personal view of its oil minister, and Saudi government definitely has no such idea."
Saudi Arabia is the only OPEC member with enough spare capacity to make up the shortfall if Iranian oil exports are blocked.
Another Iranian official, Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi, dismissed the effectiveness of moves targeting Iran's nuclear program.
Ghasemi said Tuesday, "I am sure we will overcome oil sanctions."