UPDATE 1-Threat to Iran's gasoline imports "a joke"- minister

Thu Apr 22, 2010 10:06am BST

(Adds background on gasoline imports)

TEHRAN, April 22 (Reuters) - Sanctions have had no impact on Iran's ability to export oil and the risk that future measures might hit its gasoline imports is a joke, Iranian Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi said on Thursday.

"We have no limitations to export our oil," Mirkazemi told reporters on the sidelines of an energy conference.

Sanctions had helped rather than hindered Iran's oil industry, he said.

Iran faces the threat of a fourth round of United Nations sanctions which the West hopes will pressure it to curb a nuclear programme it fears is aimed at creating a bomb, something Iran denies.

The latest draft proposals agreed by the United States, Britain, France and Germany include restrictions on new Iranian banks established abroad and on insurance of cargo shipments to and from Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter.

Israel wants tougher measures that would block Iran's vital gasoline imports. Due to a lack of investment in oil refineries, Iran has to import some 40 percent of its gasoline needs, despite being the world's fifth biggest exporter of crude. [ID:nN19659046]

Asked about the threat of gasoline sanctions, Mirkazemi said: "It's a joke."

"Despite all limitations imposed on Iran's oil and gas industry, we have been able to improve. Imposing sanctions has not isolated Iran but helped the country to improve its oil industry," he told the conference. (Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Angus MacSwan)