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Iran Confirms Refueling Problems for Some of Its Planes in Europe

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman is confirming reports Tuesday that some international energy companies are refusing to refuel Iranian airliners at some European airports. Scattered reports of refueling problems first surfaced in June, soon after the U.N., the U.S. and the EU approved new economic sanctions against Iran.

Iran is admitting Tuesday that some Western oil companies are now refusing to refuel its jetliners at certain European airports. Iranian officials denied that there was a problem last July, calling such reports "psychological war."

Iranian officials and the Iranian media have consistently played down the effects of new international economic sanctions. The U.N. Security Council, the United States and the European Union all voted to impose further sanctions on Iran in June.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast complained about the refueling crisis during a press conference Tuesday, threatening Western companies with retaliation if they continued with the practice:

He says the refueling problem is beyond the scope of the U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution, which Iran considers illegal. He also warns Western companies not to continue with the "inappropriate policy", because Iran will not tolerate it and will take action against them.

Royal Dutch Shell was reported to have refused to renew contracts to supply Iran Air with jetfuel, last July. British Petroleum also confirmed in July that it had stopped supplying jet fuel to Iran's national carrier at Hamburg Airport in Germany.

Iranian-born analyst Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute in Washington points out that the jet fuel crisis could possibly arouse a debate inside Iran over the new round of economic sanctions, because this particular measure affects the ordinary man. "When the ordinary Iranian has to have a stopover on his way back from Stockholm to Tehran in Germany, just because that's the only place that plane can get fuel, that brings home the point about the cost of the nuclear program. This helps, perhaps, foster a debate inside Iran, among ordinary people about what their government has done," he said.

The new round of economic sanctions was imposed on Iran because it has refused to stop enriching uranium at its controversial Natanz enrichment facility. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes, but the West suspects that it is covertly trying to build nuclear weapons.

Vatanka also stresses that how the jet fuel crisis plays out is critical to the West's policy of economic sanctions, depending on whether the Iranian people blame their government or the West for making their lives more miserable. "What's interesting from a Western point of view, and this is perhaps even a critical factor is how this is going to go down in terms of public opinion inside Iran. Is the Iranian regime going to be able to turn this around and say 'huh, here we have those nasty Westerners, again, making life miserable for you' or is it going to lose that argument?," he said.

Iran's opposition Green Movement has repeatedly accused the government of responsibility for the new economic sanctions, due to its "mishandling" of the controversial nuclear program. Vatanka argues that opposition websites will probably once again "point the finger of accusation" at the government for this new crisis.