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Nuclear inspectors visit Iran as tensions mount

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-02-21

A team of senior UN inspectors arrived in Tehran for two-day talks as Iran announced it was cutting oil exports to more EU nations a day after halting exports to France and the UK.

Senior UN nuclear inspectors arrived in Tehran Monday for two-day talks aimed at diffusing tensions around Iran’s nuclear program a day after Iran announced it was halting oil sales in France and Britain in apparent retaliation for the recently tightened EU sanctions.

Reporting from Tehran, AFP’s Iran correspondent Farhad Pouladi told FRANCE 24 that this is the second visit by IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors to the Islamic Republic in a month and it shows the Iranian government’s willingness to resume nuclear negotiations.

“Not much detail has been provided by the Iranian media or Iranian officials about who the inspectors will meet and where they will go, but this visit shows Iran’s determination to still work with the IAEA and to try and resolve outstanding issues,” said Pouladi in a phone interview with FRANCE 24.

Compromise and negotiation however does not appear to be the dominant discourse these days amid public discussions in Israel about whether it should attack Iran to stop it from developing a nuclear bomb.

The two arch foes have been locked in a covert “dirty war” over the past few weeks with Iran accusing Israel of assassinating a leading Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran and Israel accusing Iran of masterminding a series of attacks against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan, Georgia, India and Thailand.

Iran halting oil sales

Amid increasing tensions between Iran and the international community,Tehran announced over the weekend that it was halting oil sales to French and British companies ahead of an EU oil embargo set to begin on July 1.

Analysts however say the gesture of retaliation is largely symbolic. Iranian crude oil accounts for just 3% of consumption in France and Britain has already virtually halted its purchases of Iranian oil.

On Monday, the head of the National Iranian Oil Company said Iran would also halt oil exports to more EU nations – including Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands.

The announcement came as two Iranian naval ships docked at the Syrian port of Tartous over the weekend.

“The Iranian naval ships are carrying cadets and it is holding joint military training with their Syrian counterparts as per the pact that Iran has with Syria,” said Pouladi. “Iran of course is Syria’s regional ally.”

In a statement guaranteed to raise concerns in some international circles, Iranian state TV quoted the country’s navy chief, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, on Saturday as saying the ships passage was to show Iran's military "might".

On Monday, Iranian defence minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying: "Our ships passed through the Suez Canal and it is Iran's right to have a presence in international waters."

US displays little appetite for strikes against Iran

In a sign of Iranian concern about possible air strikes by arch-enemies Israel or the United States, Tehran on Monday began a four-day military exercise in protecting its nuclear sites, according to Iranian media.

But Washington so far has displayed little appetite for a military strike.

In an interview with CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday, the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said a military strike against Iran would be premature, because it is unclear that Tehran will actually use its nuclear capabilities to build an atomic bomb.

Dempsey said he believed the Iranian government was a “rational actor” and so he thought it best for the US and its allies to stick with international sanctions and diplomacy to try and convince Tehran not to weaponise its nuclear programme,

But while Dempsey maintained that he was confident that Israel was aware of Washington’s view, he declined to say whether the US had persuaded Israelis that it was best not to attack Iran.

“I’m confident that they [Israel] understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” said Dempsey before adding, “I wouldn’t suggest, sitting here today, that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view.”

Date created : 2012-02-20

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