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Iran blocks fuel trucks’ passage to Afghanistan

Associated Press / January 5, 2011

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Iran’s decision to stop up to 2,500 fuel trucks at its border with Afghanistan is tantamount to an embargo, an Afghan commerce official said yesterday, as others warned the move could leave millions of Afghans shivering as winter rolls on.

The unofficial ban, in its second week, has pushed up wholesale domestic fuel prices as much as 70 percent. The shortage of fuel also threatens to prevent trucks loaded with commercial goods from reaching the capital along a key southern transport route.

Iran yesterday acknowledged a link between the ban and its recent decision to slash domestic fuel subsidies in a bid to cut costs and boost an economy squeezed by international sanctions.

Afghan officials say Iran has also told them it is concerned the shipments are destined for NATO forces operating in Afghanistan, though Afghan and NATO officials deny that.

Iran “wants to impose a kind of sanction or embargo on us,’’ said Farid Shirzai, head of the Afghan Commerce Ministry’s fuel department.

“This is un-Islamic and against international transit law,’’ Shirzai said.

“They have no right to stop [the tankers] because they are merely passing through Iranian territory.’’

Iran supplies about 30 percent of Afghanistan’s refined fuel, Afghan officials say.

The remainder of the blocked shipments of vehicle and heating fuel comes from Iraq and Turkmenistan and is only transported on a route through Iran, they say.

Ramin Mehmanparast, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said yesterday that the issue would soon be resolved, emphasizing that the ban was the result of “technical problems’’ after the Iranian subsidies were cut in late December.

“After changes that cut subsidies, it is natural that some technical problems occur when sending fuel to neighboring countries. The problem is being resolved,’’ Mehmanparast said.

Afghan Commerce Ministry and customs officials have said Iranian authorities notified them that the trucks were not being allowed through for national security reasons, a reference to the suspicion that the fuel is bound for NATO forces.

The dispute could test relations between the neighbors, creating a new challenge for President Hamid Karzai’s government at a time when Afghan- istan is struggling in tandem with its NATO allies to quell a virulent insurgency and to rebuild the country after decades of war.

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