The European Union (EU) sanctions on imports of petroleum from Iran over the country's peaceful nuclear program can lead to the closure of Italian oil refineries, European oil industry sources say.
"Some Italian refineries are heavily dependent on Iranian crude and need to secure alternative supplies urgently... or they will run into serious difficulties," said Piero de Simone, director of Italy's oil industry organization.
According to analysts, at least five of Italy's oil-refining plants are making losses while the small refiners that rely on Iran's relatively cheap heavy oil to produce asphalt and bitumen are among the most vulnerable.
"This is why I am so angry. These EU sanctions are weakening Mediterranean refiners more than the Iranians," said an executive from a European refiner.
"The US and the UK play the tough guys, but we have to pay the consequences," he added.
On January 23, EU foreign ministers imposed new sanctions on Iran which include a ban on purchasing oil from the country, a freeze on the assets of Iran's Central Bank within the EU, and a ban on the sale of diamonds, gold and other precious metals to Iran.
Earlier on December 31, 2011, US President Barack Obama signed into law new sanctions against the Islamic Republic and announced that the United States would begin penalizing other countries for importing Iranian oil or conducting transactions with the country's central bank.
The United States, Israel and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program and have used this pretext to impose four rounds of UN Security Council embargos against Iran.
Iran, however, has refuted the allegations, arguing that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Tehran has every right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.