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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran complained on Monday that its planes had been denied fuel in Germany, Britain and the United Arab Emirates, and Washington said commercial firms were making the "right choices" by cutting business ties with Tehran.
The Financial Times newspaper said oil major BP had stopped refuelling Iranian jets. BP declined to confirm the report but said: "We fully comply with any international sanctions imposed in countries where we operate."
Pressure is mounting on Iran over its nuclear programme and the United States has stepped up its push to isolate Tehran economically. On Thursday, President Barack Obama signed into law far-reaching sanctions that aim to squeeze the Islamic Republic's fuel imports and deepen its international isolation.
"Since last week, our planes have been refused fuel at airports in Britain, Germany and UAE because of the sanctions imposed by America," Mehdi Aliyari, secretary of the Iranian Airlines Union, told Iran's ISNA news agency. So far national carrier Iran Air and Mahan Airlines had been affected, he said.
Washington has not spelled out whether its new sanctions are intended to require firms to refuse to fuel Iranian jets at airports in third countries, but U.S. officials made clear they were pleased with reports sanctions had begun to bite.
"The costs of doing business with Iran, a country that is shirking its international obligations across the board and engaged in illicit activity, are rising," a senior Obama administration official said on Monday.
"The international commercial sector is making the right choices. It's now time for Iran to make the right choice -- to fulfil its international obligations -- that remains our primary objective," the official said.
A source in the UAE familiar with the issue said a private firm had refused to refuel an Iranian plane there, but the UAE had imposed no ban of its own. The source did not name the firm.
"The UAE has nothing to do with it," the source said. "They (Iranian planes) are more than welcome." The source added: "It is just one company and there are other companies. There are other service providers and Iranians can seek deals with them."
A British government source said halting supplies would be a commercial decision by private firms, but London was not aware of any such incident in the UK. The German Transport Ministry said there was no ban on refuelling Iranian flights in Germany.
Western powers believe Iran is trying to build bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear programme. Tehran says the programme is only for electricity generation and medical purposes.
Sanctions appear to be having an impact. Over the past weeks a number of countries and firms have cut back on imports of Iranian crude oil. Other companies have stopped providing Iran with refined petroleum.
The UAE took steps last week to tighten its crucial role as a trading and financial lifeline for Iran. The UAE Central Bank asked financial institutions to freeze the accounts of 40 entities and an individual blacklisted by the United Nations for assisting Iran's nuclear or missile programmes.
The U.S. measures go far beyond U.N. sanctions imposed last month, by targeting firms that sell refined oil products such as gasoline to Iran, which despite being a major crude exporter imports oil products because of a lack of refining capacity.
However, Gala Riani at IHS Global Insight said preventing the fuelling of Iranian flights seemed a "very strict reading" of the new U.S. law, which is more directed at trade in fuel.
A spokeswoman for Abu Dhabi Airports Co (ADAC) in the UAE capital said: "We have contracts with Iranian passenger flights and continue to allow refuelling."
Fuel traders from three different international firms said they had heard of no ban on jet fuel sales to Iranian aircraft at UAE airports. Said one trader: "You can't allow a plane to land and then not let it buy fuel."
Additional reporting by Stanley Carvalho in Abu Dhabi and Tamara Walid, Fred Dahl and Amena Bakr in Dubai and Caroline Copley in London; Editing by Peter Graff