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EU agrees Iran oil embargo

Julian Borger, Guardian
European governments raise pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme with agreement to ban imports of Iranian oil

European governments have agreed in principle to impose a ban on imports of oil from Iran, a potentially serious blow to the already unsteady Iranian economy and a significant escalation in the international pressure on the Tehran government.

Negotiations on a European oil embargo on Iran have been under way since an EU foreign ministers meeting last month. On Wednesday night a European diplomat said there was now a consensus that the ban on crude imports would be applied, but that there was still debate on the timing and duration of the measures.
(4 January 2012)

Iran’s Real Weapon Of Mass Destruction Is Oil Prices

Daniel Fisher, Forbes
Oil prices jumped 8% last week after Iranian Vice-President Mohamad Reza Rahimi threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the rest of the world slapped an embargo on his country’s oil exports. Today, Reuters reports the European Union will do just that, with its diplomats agreeing in principle to halt Iranian imports.

There are lots of practical reasons to suspect Iran is bluffing. Not only would attacking shipping in the Strait be military suicide, but the regime needs the hard currency it gets from exporting 2.1 million barrels a day. Still, Iran is playing a powerful hand when it threatens to disrupt shipping through the narrow Strait and choke off what the Energy Information Administration estimates is 20% of the world’s traded crude.
(4 January 2012)

Iran prepares bill to bar foreign warships from Persian Gulf

Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post
Iran’s parliament said Wednesday it was preparing a bill that would prohibit all foreign warships from entering the Persian Gulf unless they received permission from the Iranian navy.

The bill, disclosed by the the semiofficial Fars News Agency, surfaced a day after Iran’s armed forces commander warned a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier not to return to the gulf, remarks that rattled commodities markets and helped drive up oil prices.
(4 January 2012)

Obama Seeks to Distance U.S. from Israeli Attack
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service via Common Dreams
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in intense maneuvering over Netanyahu’s aim of entangling the United States in an Israeli war against Iran.

Netanyahu is exploiting the extraordinary influence his right-wing Likud Party exercises over the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress on matters related to Israel in order to maximize the likelihood that the United States would participate in an attack on Iran.

Obama, meanwhile, appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the United States from any Israeli attack.

New evidence surfaced in 2011 that Netanyahu has been serious about dealing a military blow to the Iranian nuclear program.
(3 January 2012)

Iran’s new show of force

Charley Keyes, CNN
Note to American diplomats: An old Iranian saying may carry a message for a new year.

“There’s on old Persian expression that when you have a wildcat trapped in a room, you need to leave a door open to let it out,” Carnegie Endowment analyst Karim Sadjadpour said.

The New Year has dawned with new saber-rattling from Iranian leaders, new displays of its military hardware and new claims of progress in its nuclear program. All this comes amidst new frustration in the United States about how to tighten the screws on the Iranian economy.

With the U.S. and allies working to isolate Iran’s Central Bank and to impose additional restrictions on various high-ranking individuals and institutions, exits are slamming shut.

“The question is: What is the way out for the Iranian regime?” Sadjadpour said. “Can the Obama administration allow the Iranian regime a diplomatic way out in order for it to save face?”
(4 January 2012)

U.S. presence in Persian Gulf is damaging: Iran defense minister

Tehran Times
TEHRAN – Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Wednesday that the presence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf is ‘damaging’ and causes turbulence in the region.

“We have said that the presence of extra-regional powers in the Persian Gulf is unhelpful and damaging and their presence has no result other than turbulence in the region,” Vahidi told reporters after a cabinet meeting. “Therefore we have always been saying that they (should) not be present in this waterway.”

The defense minister made the remarks a day after the commander of Iran’s Armed Forces advised a U.S. aircraft carrier, which had left the Persian Gulf because of Iran’s naval war games, not to return to the sea.

“We advise, recommend, and warn them that this aircraft carrier (should) not return to its previous place in the Persian Gulf, because we are not used to repeating a warning and give a warning only once,” Major General Ataollah Salehi said.

The Pentagon, in response to Salehi’s remarks, said that the deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region “will continue as it has for decades”, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.

George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, said that “no one in this government seeks confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz”, but added that any attempt to close the straits would not be tolerated.

On the news about the possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz, Vahidi said that “the security of this strategic strait is of high importance” to the Islamic Republic.

“Iran, as an important regional power, has a good right to the Strait of Hormuz, and will take measures to maintain the security of the strait,” he stated.

“But the enemy is seeking to create a commotion about this issue and sell its arms to various countries in the region through magnifying such issues,” he added.
(4 January 2012)

Nuclear fuel test won’t hasten Iran bomb: experts

Fredrik Dahl, Reuters
This week’s announcement that Iran has successfully made and tested fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants appeared designed to show that sanctions are failing to halt its technical advances and to strengthen its hand in any renewed negotiations with the major powers.

Spent fuel can be reprocessed to make plutonium, potential bomb material, but Western worries about Iran’s nuclear program are focused on its enrichment of uranium, which can also provide the core of nuclear weapons if refined much more.

“The (fuel rod) development itself doesn’t put them any closer to producing weapons,” said Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association, a U.S.-based research and advocacy group.

It could be a way of telling Tehran’s foes that time is running out if they want to revive an atomic fuel swap deal that collapsed two years ago but is still seen by some experts as offering the best chance to start building badly needed trust.
(4 January 2012)