Iran urges Muslims to halt oil sales to Sharon's allies

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Iran has called for Islamic states to declare a one-month oil embargo against Israel's main allies to support the Palestinians.

The call yesterday by the moderate President, Mohammad Khatami, echoed a similar one 10 days ago by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which was not taken up.

Neighbouring Iraq enforced a unilateral oil export embargo last week. Libya has said it will support an embargo by other Islamic exporters.

The Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, urged Iran on Sunday to give part of one month's oil revenues to the Palestinian people. He criticised Iran for making the call for an oil embargo, but then doing nothing to implement it.

Iranian state television said that Mr Khatami, in a message to the head of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, had called for a simultaneous cut of oil exports from Islamic oil exporting countries for one month to "Israel's main supporters".

Mr Khatami said the embargo would be in response to what he called "crimes against humanity" by the Israeli army in its two-week operation in the West Bank. "These crimes are being committed with US support, which clears any doubt by even the most optimistic people ... that the United States is neutral in this case," television quoted him as saying.

"America has made its official and clear policy to support the criminals and exert pressure on the most oppressed nation in the world," Mr Khatami said.

Iran has not exported crude oil to America since a 1995 embargo was enacted by Bill Clinton, President at the time.

Mr Khatami said any embargo should be enforced simultaneously with other Islamic states. Iranian oil analysts said such a joint plan would not be easy to achieve. They also stressed Mr Khatami's call was for all Islamic producers to join in a boycott of Israel and its allies.

"Iran is not about to take unilateral action," an oil industry source said in Tehran.

The Islamic Republic exports more than two million barrels per day of crude.

Mr Khatami sent a separate message to fellow Opec members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, calling for action.

Iranian insiders said an embargo by Tehran would prove very expensive for the economy, dealing a severe blow to export earnings.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top producer, has rejected the idea of an embargo, saying it would guarantee world crude supplies. Its Oil Minister, Ali al-Naimi, gave an explicit assurance last week that his country would remain a reliable worldwide supplier of crude.