Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Iran feeling sanctions - making threats

TEHRAN — In a new show of defiance against tightened sanctions, Iran on Wednesday threatened to cut oil exports to several European Union countries and unveiled advances in its nuclear fuel programs.

In a day of fiery speeches, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also lashed out at the West, condemning the recent assassinations of Iranian scientists.

Iran says it has begun loading domestically made nuclear fuel rods into its Tehran research reactor. The official IRNA news agency said Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inserted the first Iranian-made nuclear fuel rod into the reactor in north Tehran. (Feb. 15)

A string of volatile incidents between the two countries in the past few months has increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of six E.U. states and warned at least four of them — Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece — that they must extend their long term oil-purchasing contracts with Iran or face a cutoff, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported Wednesday.

France and the Netherlands, close U.S. allies in supporting international sanctions against the Islamic Republic, were told that they would no longer receive any oil at all, the agency reported.

Earlier, the official Press TV said Iran would stop exporting oil to all six countries. The announcement helped drive the price of crude to nearly $102 a barrel Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Europe accounts for about 18 percent of Iran’s crude exports, with Greece, Italy and Spain among the main buyers, AP said.

Iran’s Oil Ministry subsequently denied the Press TV report. Another Iranian media outlet, Fars News Agency, quoted an Oil Ministry source as saying that the exports to Europe have not been stopped yet but that Iran has given an ultimatum to those countries to continue their long-term contracts. Iran’s Arabic -language state television channel al-Alam said the ministry would provide more details Thursday.

Iran’s move was aimed at preempting a European Union boycott of Iranian oil, which is scheduled to start in July.

The threatened cutoff was announced after state media reported that Iran has started loading fuel rods into the Tehran Research Reactor, an aging U.S.-supplied nuclear reactor used to make medical isotopes, and has begun operating a new generation of centrifuges at the country’s main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. While official media had reported that Ahmadinejad would also formally declare fully operational the underground Fordow uranium-enrichment facility, he did not mention the complex in his speech.

In Washington, the State Department played down the nuclear accomplishments, describing them as “hyped” and “not terribly impressive.” She added that Iran remains “many, many months behind” its own schedule.

“Iran is clearly feeling the pressure of its international and diplomatic isolation,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.


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