By Ali Akbar Dareini, The Associated Press, in Globe and Mail, February 15, 2012
Iran claimed Wednesday that it has achieved two major advances in its program to master production of nuclear fuel, a defiant move in response to increasingly tough Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.
In a further show of resistance to international pressure, state media reported Iran was taking steps to cut oil exports to six European countries in retaliation for new European Union sanctions, including a ban on Iranian oil.
The semiofficial Mehr agency said that Iran has halted exports to France and the Netherlands, and has given an ultimatum to Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece to either sign long-term contracts with Iran or be cut off. State-run Press TV had earlier reported that exports were being cut off outright for all six. The contradiction in the reports could not immediately been resolved.
The EU ban on oil imports is to go into effect in July. Iranian officials say their country's earlier cutoff will hit European nations before they can line up new suppliers, and that Tehran has already lined up buyers for the 18 per cent share of its oil that goes to Europe.
Iran's tough tone comes as tensions have mounted dramatically with Israel and the United States over its nuclear program, which Washington and its allies say is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying its program is intended solely for research and generating electricity. Israel has increasingly warned of the possibility of a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, and it has accused Iran of being behind attempted attacks on Israeli diplomats in India, Georgia and elsewhere. Iran denies any role in the attacks, which have resembled recent bombing-assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists that Tehran has blamed on Israel.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator on Wednesday formally notified the European Union's foreign policy chief that Tehran is willing to return to talks with the world powers on its nuclear program. Many in the West however feel that negotiations are a ploy to buy time.
Iran is meanwhile pushing ahead on what it says is a drive toward nuclear-self-sufficiency.
With this pre-emptive decision, Iran is in effect telling these six powers, "You are cut off from Iranian oil, so your ban on purchasing Iranian oil is impotent, null and void, nada!" Checkmate! Gotcha!...Oh, and by the way, we're also proceeding at full speed toward nuclear weapons.
And, if you blink, we are also going to keep up the pressure on Israeli diplomats around the world, in retaliation for the deaths of Iranian scientists.
So there is the proverbial Iranian "thumb" at the world, at Europe, and Israel, and also at the U.S. whose three ships taversed the Straits of Hormuz just yesterday, in defiance of Iranian threats not to do so.
With the announcement from Iran, the price of oil went up within the hour more than $1.50/per barrel.