Iran's foreign minister cools oil weapon fears

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TEHRAN, Mar 12 (Reuters) Tehran will not use its abundant oil exports as a political tool, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said today, cooling fears Iran could rein in exports in a dispute over its atomic work.

Officials from the various power blocks in Iran's Hydra-headed establishment have given differing opinions on whether the world's fourth biggest crude exporter could use oil to hit back at the West's criticisms of its atomic work.

Iran has been reported to the UN Security Council, which can impose sanctions, after failing to convince the international community its atomic scientists are working exclusively on power stations and not branching into arms.

Iran's Supreme National Security Council, which represents Iran in nuclear talks, has said Iran has no plans to play the oil card at present but could do so if ''conditions change''.

Officials have not defined this change in conditions but it is largely understood to refer to punitive action form the UN Security Council.

Mottaki, however, said the oil option was not on the table.

''The Islamic Republic of Iran is resolved to provide Asia with the energy it needs as a reliable and effective source of energy and will not use oil as a foreign policy,'' he told a conference on energy and security issues in Tehran.

Mottaki's words chimed with Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh who has also said Iran has no plans to cut exports over the nuclear dispute.

Oil is vital to Iran's economic survival and accounts for 80 per cent of export earnings.

Iran holds the world's second biggest crude reserves after Saudi Arabia but a lack of foreign investment means production is slipping and Tehran cannot meet its quota in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

REUTERS DKS PM1320

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