The European Union (EU) has agreed on a ban on imports of Iranian crude oil but has yet to hammer out a timeframe, according to reports.

Iran has, however, claimed it will simply find alternative markets for its oil as the US also stepped up the pressure on the embattled Middle Eastern hydrocarbons powerhouse which is currently swamped by international sanctions.

European diplomats have reached a preliminary agreement in principle to ban Iranian oil imports but have yet to work out when these may be put in to force, numerous media reports claim.

"There is a converging consensus in principle on an oil embargo. I don’t see any fundamental opposition,” the Wall Street Journal quoted one unidentified diplomat as saying.

The EU has itself yet to publish a written statement on the preliminary agreement reached on Wednesday.

The US Treasury Department on Wednesday issued a statement saying that secretary Timothy Geithner will next week travel to China and Japan to discuss a fresh round of sanctions against Iran which continues to defend its nuclear programme as having civilian purposes. Geithner will be in Beijing next Tuesday and Tokyo next Thursday.

News of the reported EU agreement nudged crude oil prices up around $2 per barrel on the back of anticipated supply fears.

Iranian officials, however, hit back at the mooted ban, saying they are confident of continuing imports at a steady pace.

"We could very easily replace those customers," international director at National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) S M Qamsari told Reuters.

Qamsari identified African and Asian markets, including China, as potential recipients of any heretofore Europe-bound oil.

"We’ve got very high demand from our lifters, so we have the same quantity in our term contracts," Qamsari told Reuters which said Iran currently shifts about 2.3 million barrels of oil per day.

Source: Upstream Online