France will unilaterally stop importing oil from Iran, the first European country to do so, as part of an effort to isolate Tehran because of its nuclear programme.
The interruption of Iranian oil purchases is among the measures proposed by France to its partners. We will apply this at a national level, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in statement posted on the ministry's website on Thursday.
Valero's statement was in answer to a question from Reuters on whether the government would force French oil major Total to stop its crude shipping business with Iran.
It was unclear whether France would act immediately or wait for a common position with its European partners, which it said it would consult in coming days.
Valero referred further questions to the French industry ministry. The French energy ministry, which is part of the industry ministry, declined to comment.
The United States, Britain and Canada on Monday announced new sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors in steps aimed at raising pressure on Tehran to halt its nuclear program.
France has since been pushing hard to convince allies to also impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports and central bank, despite concerns among other Western governments that such moves could hurt the world economy as well as Tehran.
Paris had until now stopped short of saying whether it may freeze those imports unilaterally.
France turned to Iranian oil in the first half of the year to make up for disruption during the Libyan war.
Last year, Iran supplied 2.8 percent of French oil imports, or 1.8 million tonnes, according to data from French petroleum industry body UFIP. In the seven months to July this year, it supplied 1.6 million tonnes, around a modest 55,000 barrels per day.
UFIP said on Thursday France would easily make up for an Iranian crude import shortfall.
The share of Iranian crude imports can be easily compensated. It's so marginal that it can be adjusted with (supplies from) other countries that are not at their top production capacity, UFIP spokesman Yves-Marie Dalibard said.
Shares in Total, France's biggest oil company, were down 1.25 percent at 34.88 euros by 1431 GMT after accelerating losses shortly after the French announcement. The European energy sector was down 0.9 percent at the time.
Total declined to say what impact the ban would have on French refined product supplies.
(Reporting By John Irish, Marie Maitre and Muriel Boselli; Editing by Anthony Barker)