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European Union Bans Iranian Petroleum in Step Against Nuclear Program

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, shown last week. The 27 EU nations on Sunday began implementing an embargo on Iranian petroleum in an effort to pressure Tehran over its disputed atomic efforts (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo). European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, shown last week. The 27 EU nations on Sunday began implementing an embargo on Iranian petroleum in an effort to pressure Tehran over its disputed atomic efforts (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo).

The European Union on Sunday began barring imports of Iranian petroleum and coverage of related shipments by insurers, the latest in a long line of punitive measures aimed at pressuring Tehran to address worries that its nuclear program is geared toward establishment of a weapons capability, the Wall Street Journal reported (see GSN, June 29; Benoit Faucon, Wall Street Journal I).

"We hope Iran will seize the opportunity of this meeting to show a willingness to take concrete steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program and to meet its international obligations," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday (Torello/Norman, Wall Street Journal II, July 2).

The Obama administration commended the 27-nation bloc's moves and urged Iran to "pursue substantive negotiations" on the atomic dispute, starting with a technical discussion scheduled for Tuesday between Iranian officials and counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

Observers were pessimistic about the upcoming meeting, which would come after three gatherings of the powers earlier this year, according to the Journal. Tehran insists its atomic activities are strictly peaceful (Faucon, Wall Street Journal I, July 1).

“It is our assessment that the Iranians have not experienced deep enough sanctions, long enough to fully understand what their isolation means,” a high-level Obama insider told the New York Times on Friday. "[Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] has not made the decision to deal.”

Iran has provided a "detailed response" to a U.S. draft agreement calling on Tehran to end manufacturing of 20 percent-enriched uranium, the source noted. Western powers fear Iran's production of the higher-enriched uranium could enable faster preparation of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

The EU steps and a set of U.S. financial penalties that took effect last week "are the toughest sanctions imposed to date" against Iran, former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said.

“We should give them a few months to have the kind of impact for which they are designed -- to force Iran to negotiate more seriously,” Burns said (Lowrey/Sanger, New York Times, June 30).

Some officials in Tehran have acknowledged implications from the measures. Iranian National Oil head Ahmad Qalebani on Sunday said his country was poised to see a 20 to 30 percent decline in its unrefined petroleum sales over the next six months (Faucon, Wall Street Journal I).

"Today, we are facing the heaviest of sanctions, and we ask people to help officials in this battle," Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said in comments reported by the Associated Press. Iran had stockpiled certain materials from abroad in preparation for the EU penalties, state media quoted Rahimi as saying; the official did not elaborate (Karimi/Lucas, Associated Press I/Yahoo!News, July 1).

Tehran was also intensifying moves to circumvent the penalties, according to the Journal.

"All possible options have been planned in government to counter" the measures, Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi stated on Sunday. The official on Friday said his nation had begun selling gasoline overseas rather than purchasing it from abroad, helping to offset the impact of the punitive measures (Faucon, Wall Street Journal I).

New U.S. and EU economic steps against Iran demonstrate the Western powers are not sincere in their intent to pursue substantive negotiations with Tehran, AP quoted Iran's envoy to the United Nations as saying.

"It is clear to us that some members of the [P-5+1] for whatever reasons, obviously political reasons, are not forthcoming and serious enough for finding a solution. If the talks do not proceed as it should be, we are going to have another standoff in the talks," Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said in reference to the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.

"Therefore, we can say we are at a critical point in our talks," Khazaee said.

"Iranians have learned how to deal with pressure in the past, in our history, everybody knows that the Iranian nation (does) not accept any pressure or sanctions," the official added. "Sanctions may be intended to harm the Iranian nation but they will not bring (Iranians) to their knees to accept illegitimate, I should say, expectations from the other side" (Michael Astor, Associated Press II/ABC News, June 29).

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took up the Iranian nuclear standoff during a meeting in St. Petersburg, ITAR-Tass reported on Friday (ITAR-Tass, June 29).

Separately, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman departed on Sunday for Italy, Agence France-Presse reported. The Israeli Foreign Ministry indicated he would address the "continuation of sanctions against Iran" during talks with his Italian equivalent and Prime Minister Mario Monti.

The top Israeli diplomat would "reiterate that the sanctions against Iran must be increased as much as possible in order to stop its nuclear race, which threatens not only the Middle East, but also Europe and the entire free world," the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated (Agence France-Presse/Google News, July 1).

Elsewhere, Iran has persisted in sending weapons to other nations in violation of U.N. restrictions, Reuters quoted a Security Council panel as saying in a new assessment.

"Iran has continued to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments," the group stated. "Two of these cases involved (Syria), as were the majority of cases inspected by the panel during its previous mandate, underscoring that Syria continues to be the central party to illicit Iranian arms transfers" (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, June 29).

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