UN inspectors in Iran for nuclear talks

2012-02-20 10:01

Tehran - A team of UN inspectors arrived in Tehran early on Monday for talks on Iran's disputed nuclear programme, a day after the Islamic Republic ordered a halt to its oil sales to Britain and France in apparent retaliation for tightening EU sanctions.

The European Union enraged Tehran last month when it decided to impose a boycott on its oil from July 1. Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, responded by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, the main Gulf oil shipping lane.

On Sunday, its oil ministry went a step further, announcing Iran has now stopped selling oil to France and Britain altogether - a powerful yet largely symbolic message since neither European nation relies on Iranian crude imports.

"Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped ... we will sell our oil to new customers," spokesperson Alireza Nikzad was quoted as saying on the ministry website.

Iran, which denies Western allegations that it is seeking to make nuclear weapons, has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks while also expressing willingness to resume negotiations on its nuclear programme.

The five-member team from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will hold two days of talks in Iran, but Western diplomats have played down any hopes of a major breakthrough.

Under close watch

"I'm still pessimistic that Iran will demonstrate the substantive co-operation necessary," one envoy said in Vienna.

Yet the outcome of this week's discussions is important and will be watched closely because it could either intensify the standoff or offer scope to reduce tensions.

The European Commission says the bloc would not be short of oil if Iran stopped crude exports as it has enough stock to meet its needs for around 120 days.

Industry sources said European oil buyers were already making big cuts in purchases from Iran months in advance of EU sanctions. France's Total has stopped buying Iranian oil while debt-ridden Greece is most exposed to Iranian crude disruption among European countries.

Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful but its refusal to curb uranium enrichment, which can have both military and civilian purposes, has raised concerns.

Western powers have not ruled out using force against Iran, and there has been an intense public discussion in Israel about whether it should attack Iran to stop it making a nuclear bomb.

Rational actor

The top US military officer said on Sunday that a military strike would be premature as it was not clear that Tehran would use its nuclear capabilities to build an atomic bomb.

"I believe it is unclear [that Iran would assemble a bomb] and on that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us," said General Martin Dempsey, chairperson of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He said he believed the Iranian government was a "rational actor".

The West has expressed some optimism over the prospect of new talks with Tehran, particularly after it sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week promising to bring "new initiatives" to the table.

"In these negotiations, we are looking for a way out of Iran's current nuclear issue so that both sides win," Iranian TV quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying on Sunday.

Oil is a major part of Iran's export revenues and an important lifeline for its increasingly isolated economy. It has little refining capacity and has to import about 40% of its gasoline needs for domestic consumption.

Tighter sanctions, combined with high inflation, have squeezed the ability of working-class Iranians to feed themselves and their families, and this uncertainty forms the backdrop to a parliamentary vote on March 2.

"Everything's become so expensive in the past few weeks," said Marjan Hamidi, an Iranian shopper in Tehran, "But my husband's income stays the same. How am I going to live like this?"

  • customdesign - 2012-02-20 11:07

    A rational actor- what a joke- the same sentiments were made about Adolf Hitler before World War ii

  • Johannes - 2012-02-20 12:38

    USA killing civilians of another country, not something new is it. Isreal sticking its nose were it doesn't belong still not new. Who ever gave these countries the authority to dictate how other countries should run. Its so sad that nobody sees the truth, only the show.

      Fidel - 2012-02-20 13:14

      Well said! The USA and her allies have appointed themselves as the sole arbiter of what is moral and what is not.

      Africa21stcentury - 2012-02-20 14:04

      @Johannes Well, are we not lucky we got smart people like you, to tell us the "truth"

      allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-02-20 15:04

      Simply put Iran is party to the NPT (Non-prolifiration Treaty) but has been found in non-compliance of NPT safe-guards as well as failing repeatedly over exteended periods to meet these obligations and declare its enrichment program. Its not about how the country is run or moral dictate but the prolifiration of nuclear weapons/materials from a government who can't meets its obligations under a signed treaty.

      Fred - 2012-02-20 19:43

      Here is an example of your rotten anti-semite and bigoted thoughts, Patrick. You're supporting a person who has a photo of a swastika on his Facebook page.

      Fred - 2012-02-20 19:46

      Johannes, you a rotten anti-semite and a bigot.

      Graham - 2012-02-20 20:23

      Johannes, you are an imbecile and a disgrace to the human race.

      Fidel - 2012-02-20 20:32

      @Fred "Isreal sticking its nose were it doesn't belong still not new." This is anti-semetic how Fred? I am really interested in hearing your answer.

      Fred - 2012-02-21 00:09

      Not interesting at all. Israel has nuclear weapons entirely as a defense against rogue despotic, terrorist regimes like Assad's Syria (who is being deposed), and Amedinejad's Iran.

      Fred - 2012-02-21 00:10

      Fidel, the guy's got a swastika on his Facebook page.

  • Africa21stcentury - 2012-02-20 14:05

    I hate this logging in via this dumb stupid fb. It does things you never asked for !!!!!!

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