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20 January 2012 - 20:55

Representatives of the European Union (EU) member states have failed in their latest meeting in Brussels to reach an agreement on the details of a planned embargo on Iran's oil exports.

During the session on Thursday, senior diplomats from 27-member EU bloc agreed in principle to ban oil imports from Iran and put more pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.

However, they failed to finalize the ban and the matter will be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers next Monday, Reuters reported.

EU countries still remain divided over several issues-- primarily the length of a planned grace period that would allow states heavily dependent on Iranian oil to fulfill existing contracts for a period after the ban comes into force.

Some EU members are seeking grace periods of between one and 12 months to allow them to find alternative supplies. Greece, which depends heavily on Iranian crude, is pushing for the longest delay while Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany say they need a maximum period of three months.

The EU governments will be prohibited from making new contracts with Iran from the time the embargo is imposed, but can purchase previously contracted crude. This exemption would end on July 1, 2012.

The EU is expected to hold its summit meeting later this month on January 23, which will also focus on proposed embargo on Iran's oil exports.

European diplomats maintain that given the critical economic conditions facing EU member countries, it may take months before sanctions actually enter into force.

EU countries buy about 500,000 barrels per day of Iran's oil, making the Union one of the largest markets for Iranian crude.

The US and EU accuse Iran of pursuing a military nuclear program and have used this as an excuse to get the UN Security Council to impose four rounds of sanctions against the country.

Tehran insists that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it is entitled to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
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News Code 181402