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U.S. deal with European oil firms hobbles Iran Air

"We will continue to fly to Europe, if needed even with half occupancy to save fuel which we can bring from Tehran," said Mohammad Jalali, an Amsterdam-based district manager for Iran Air. "But we are losing time, money and passengers," he said.

President Obama told Persian-language BBC Farsi channel in September that he was "concerned" for the Iranian people, but that they have to blame their leaders for the increasing isolation their country faces.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday that the administration was "directing our efforts at entities that we think support the government and its policies," but acknowledged that "there are ripple effects and that there are impacts that go beyond that."

"We want to see the Iranian people have the same opportunities to travel, to engage, as others in the region and around the world have," Crowley said. "And the only thing that's impeding Iran from having that kind of relationship with the United States and the rest of the world is the government and policies of Iran."

Under sanctions passed by Congress in July, jet fuel sales of as much as $5 million a year are permitted. Sanctions by the European Union specifically single out the civilian operations of Iran Air as being allowed, and do not call for restrictions against the airline. Jalali of Iran Air Amsterdam - an average station for the airline in Europe - said it purchased far below the $5 million limit.

After its delivery contract with Q8 was suddenly terminated by the Kuwaiti company, Iran Air approached all other possible sellers without success. "None of the oil companies are telling us why they have broken their contracts. We have agreements to operate from European countries; we are entitled to our fuel," Jalali said in an interview last week.

Representatives for major oil firms say jet fuel sales to Iran Air are good business but too dangerous to pursue given the threat of sanctions by the United States. "All big oil companies are in daily contact with the U.S. State Department regarding Iran," said a representative of a major oil firm on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "Be sure that the Obama administration is fully aware of the situation Iran Air is in."

Austrian oil company OMV, which is still delivering jet fuel to Iran Air planes in Vienna, said its contract with Iran Air is "in line with all regulations by the E.U. and the United Nations." A person authorized to speak for the company said that commitments would be honored "for the time being." A representative of Total of France, which is supplying Iran Air in Cologne, Germany, said it was not able to respond to questions currently. Total is one of the companies that agreed with the United States to end all investments in Iran.

Iran Air is planning to take its case to the international court of justice in The Hague. "Traveling is a human right, airline conventions are broken and neither the European Union, U.S. or United Nations sanctions are calling for these restrictions against us," Jalali said. "This is a low-level war between Iran and the U.S., but I don't want our passengers to be in the middle."

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