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Iran warns Gulf states not to make up for oil ban
by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Jan 15, 2012

China oil firm slams 'puzzling' US sanctions
Beijing (AFP) Jan 14, 2012 - A Chinese oil firm which the US placed sanctions on saying it was the largest seller of refined petroleum products to Iran has denied the claim as "fiction", state media said Saturday.

Washington Thursday said Zhuhai Zhenrong brokered delivery of more than $500 million in gasoline to Iran from July 2010 to January 2011 and put in place sanctions barring the Beijing-based company from doing business in the US.

The sanctions came a day after US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met Premier Wen Jiabao and other Chinese leaders to ask for help squeezing Iran's key oil revenues and pushing Tehran to halt its nuclear ambitions.

"The accusations that we export refined oil to Iran is complete fiction. We have never done that. The sanctions are truly puzzling," a representative for Zhuhai Zhenrong was quoted as saying in The Global Times newspaper.

Calls to the company went unanswered on Saturday and China's ministry of foreign affairs could not be reached for comment.

Zhuhai Zhenrong defended itself as Wen left Saturday for the Middle East to visit key oil-producing nations as rising tensions over Iran's nuclear programme spark fears of major oil supply disruptions.

Energy-hungry China relies on Iran for 11 percent of its oil imports.

Vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai this week warned against making any links between China's trade relations with Iran and pressure on Tehran's nuclear programme.

The US sanctions, also placed on companies from Singapore and the United Arab Emirates -- where Wen will make a stop -- bar the three firms from receiving US export licences, trade support from the US Export Import Bank and loans over $10 million from US financial institutions.

Zhuhai Zhenrong's website said the company, founded in 1994, had imported a total of 150 million tonnes of crude oil by the end of 2010 and has a long-term contract to import fuel oil from the National Iranian Oil Company.

"The sanctions don't make any difference to our company's business because we have never had any business cooperation with any United States companies," a representative, Zheng Mei, told the Legal Mirror newspaper on Friday.

Wen, on his Middle East trip, will first spend the weekend in Saudi Arabia -- the largest provider of oil to China -- before going to the UAE on Monday and then on to Qatar on January 19.

Iran has starkly warned Gulf states not to make up for any shortfall in its oil exports under new US and EU sanctions, adding yet another layer of peril to the international showdown over its nuclear programme.

If Arab neighbours compensate for a looming EU ban on Iranian imports, "we would not consider these actions to be friendly," Iran's representative to OPEC, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, was quoted as saying by the Sharq newspaper on Sunday.

"They will be held responsible for what happens" in that case, he said, adding ominously: "One cannot predict the consequences."

The warning comes as Iran is being hammered on several fronts over its nuclear programme, which it is defiantly expanding.

Western sanctions are being ratcheted up, shaking Iran's oil-dependent economy.

Military pressure is building, with the United States and Britain deploying warships to the Gulf, and reports suggesting Israel could be poised to launch air strikes against Iranian nuclear sites.

A covert campaign has also been stepped up, as evidenced last Wednesday by the murder of a deputy director of Iran's main uranium enrichment plant -- the fifth scientist to be targeted in Tehran by motorbike-mounted assassins in two years.

Furious Iranian officials say they are looking at ways of hitting back against those they see responsible for the attacks: arch-foes the United States, Israel and Britain.

They are also threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if extra sanctions bite, cutting off the transport of 20 percent of the world's oil.

The United States has said that would cross a "red line," prompting likely military action.

Iran's foreign ministry on Sunday revealed that Washington had sent Tehran a letter concerning its threatened closure of the strategic strait, but gave no details of the contents.

"We are in the process of studying the letter and if necessary we will respond," the official IRNA news agency quoted Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

The head of Iran's navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, reiterated to Sunday's Tehran Emrouz daily that closing the strait would be easy, "like drinking water."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has also said his country would forge on with its nuclear activities "with determination."

A new nuclear site, one that can produce 20-percent enriched uranium, has started operations in a heavily defended bunker sunk into a mountain southwest of Tehran, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Senior IAEA officials are to visit Iran on January 28 to discuss suspicions over Iran's activities that were crystallised in an IAEA report two months ago.

But just before that, on January 23, EU foreign ministers are expected to announce additional sanctions on Iran targeting its oil exports and possibly also its central bank.

They would add to US sanctions signed into law last month by President Barack Obama that bar foreign companies from doing business in America if they have dealings with Iran's central bank.

A sudden slide in Iran's currency, the rial, suggested an anticipatory impact of those sanctions.

Although officials in Tehran said other factors were the cause, they have taken extraordinary steps to try to shore up the rial.

Media at the weekend reported they ordered a prohibition on currency transactions outside of banks and authorised exchange shops.

Going after Iran's oil exports is striking at the heart of the Islamic republic's economy.

Iran exports around 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, bringing in up to $100 billion last year.

Saudi Arabia, which currently exports some 10 million barrels a day, has reportedly reassured US and EU officials that it can help make up for any production gap caused by sanctions on Iranian oil.

Iran-Saudi ties are poor, especially after US allegations last October that a thwarted plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington was hatched in Tehran.

The Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, said in Sunday's Al-Watan newspaper that "Saudi Arabia is able to produce 12.5 million barrels per day to meet the needs of the world market and satisfy any increase in demand from consumer countries."

Later on Sunday, China signed energy deals with Saudi Arabia as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Riyadh.

The two countries inked several economic and cultural agreements including a Memorandum of Understanding between Saudi petrochemical giant SABIC and China's Sinopec to build a petrochemical plant in Tianjin, Saudi state news agency SPA said.

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No plans for Western military action on Syria, Iran: UK
London (AFP) Jan 15, 2012 - Western nations have no immediate plans for military action to stop the repression of protests in Syria or to halt Iran's nuclear programme, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday.

Asked if there was a possibility of a no-fly zone in Syria like the one imposed over Libya last year, Hague said there was "no serious prospect" of a UN resolution on the subject.

"We haven't been looking at a no-fly zone," Hague told Sky News, saying it would be only effective in tandem with other measures, and that the Syrian regime had not been relying on air power to repress protests.

"There is no serious prospect certainly at the moment of the United Nations Security Council agreeing any resulution at the moment, let alone agreeing a resolution comparable to anything that happened in Libya."

But he said that if the current Arab League monitoring mission in Syria does not work "I hope they (the Arab League) will come to the UN and suggest a way forward that we can all get behind."

Hague was also cool on suggestions by Qatar that Arab forces should be sent into Syria to stop the deadly 10-month crackdown on dissent by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

On Iran, Hague warned that Tehran's "dangerous" nuclear drive threatened profileration across the Middle East.

"We must not be put off further sanctions by bluster or statements from Iran," Hague said, adding that he hoped European Union foreign ministers would agree new measures when they meet on January 23.

"If it continues it will produce nuclear profileration across the Middle East, which will then be extremely dangerous for the people of Iran, for the whole region and for the peace of the world."

Hague refused to rule out military action against Iran but said Britain was not calling for it.

"We've never ruled anything out, we've not ruled out any option, or we've not ruled out supporting any option, we believe all options should be on the table, that is part of the pressure on Iran, he said.

"But we're clearly not calling for or advocating military action, we're advocating negotiation, meaningful netogiations, if Iran will enter in to them."

The West accuses Iran of trying to produce a nuclear weapon, but Iran says its programme is for civilian use.


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Japan backtracks on Iran oil embargo
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 13, 2012
The Japanese government on Friday began backtracking on its pledge to join Washington's drive to strangle Iranian oil exports as top figures insisted no decision had yet been made. Just 24 hours after the country's finance minister indicated Tokyo was falling into line with US demands, the premier and his foreign minister both signalled a significant retreat. The US is trying to ramp up ... read more

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