Saudi Arabia has reopened an old oil pipeline built by Iraq to bypass Gulf shipping lanes, giving Riyadh scope to export more of its crude from Red Sea terminals should Iran try to block the Strait of Hormuz, industry sources told Reuters.
Riyadh took the step as international pressure grows on Iran to curb a nuclear programme that Western powers say has a covert military purpose. A European Union embargo on buying Iranian oil takes full effect, cutting Tehran’s income. With the sanctions regime tightening on Iran, grains traders said its attempts to secure millions of tonnes of wheat through barter deals with India and Pakistan are failing, and Tehran is about to pay premium prices on international markets to secure food supplies and stave off popular unrest. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili warned world powers against adopting “unconstructive measures” that harm talks, state television reported. “Those who replace logic in talks with illegitimate tools are responsible for harming the constructive trend of talks,” Jalili wrote to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The effects of tensions have been diverse, with Saudi Arabia’s decision to widen its export routes the latest evidence of states in the region preparing for difficulties.
The Iraqi Pipeline in Saudi Arabia (IPSA), laid across the kingdom in the 1980s after oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf by both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, has not carried Iraqi crude since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Saudi Arabia confiscated the pipeline in 2001 as compensation for debts owed by Baghdad and has used it to transport gas to power plants in the west of the country in the last few years.
Iran threatened in January to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for US and European sanctions that target its oil revenues in an attempt to stop the nuclear programme. An EU ban on Iranian oil starts on Sunday and Israel has threatened military action against the country’s nuclear facilities if talks with Western powers fail to stop uranium enrichment.