Iran Warns Neighbors Against Alliance With U.S.

Iran’s foreign minister has warned neighbors in the Middle East not to align themselves with the United States as tensions escalate over Tehran’s nuclear activity, threatening an embargo on Iranian oil.

Hot Feature: Internet Companies Stage Unprecedented Online Protest

If Western powers move to ban Iranian crude exports, Iran has threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz — the only sea passage to the open ocean for large areas of the petroleum-exporting Persian Gulf.

European Union foreign ministers are expected to agree on an oil embargo against Iran when they meet on Monday. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said they will also likely freeze all Iranian assets in the European Central Bank.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia said that it could swiftly raise oil output for key customers if and when Iranian exports are embargoed …

“We want peace and tranquility in the region. But some of the countries in our region, they want to direct other countries 12,000 miles away from this region,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said today in an apparent reference to the alliance of Iran’s Arab neighbors with Washington.

“I am calling to all countries in the region, please don’t let yourselves be dragged into a dangerous position,” Salehi told Turkey’s NTV broadcaster, adding that the U.S. should make it clear that it was open for negotiations with Tehran without conditions.

Salehi referred to a letter sent to him by President Barrack Obama, the contents of which have not been made public, saying that, “behind the curtains they plead to us to sit down and talk,” but have yet to make clear their “good intentions” and should express their readiness for “talks without conditions.”

The U.S. is prepared to talk to Iran, but only if Tehran agrees to discuss halting its uranium enrichment program, which the country has repeatedly refused to do, insisting that the program is …

entirely peaceful.

Tehran says it is refining uranium only for electricity generation and medical applications. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency has gathered intelligence information indicating that Iran has engaged in research and development relevant for nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Salehi said he was in touch with world powers to reopen talks he expected to be held soon, but Washington and the EU quickly denied this, saying they are still waiting for Iran to show that it is serious about negotiations.

“There are no current talks about talks,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday. “What we are doing, as we have said, is making clear to the Iranians that if they are serious about coming back to a conversation, where they talk openly about their nuclear program, and if they are prepared to come clean with the international community, that we are open to that.”

Until then, the stage remains set for international oil sanctions against Iran. Obama already signed legislation on December 31 that would freeze out any institution dealing with Iran’s central bank, making it impossible for most countries to buy Iranian crude.

The European Union’s 27 member states are still trying to determine when an embargo would start, and are now considering a grace period that would not end until July so as to give debt-ridden EU states that rely on Iranian oil time to adjust to the ban.

“On the central bank, things have been moving in the right direction,” an EU diplomat said. “There is now wide agreement on the principle. Discussions continue on the details.”

Israel, which is the only Middle Eastern country definitively known to have nuclear weapons, sees Iran’s own nuclear ambitions as a mortal threat, and together with the U.S., has not yet ruled out military action as a last resort to prevent an atomic “breakout” by Tehran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that any military action by the U.S. or Israel would ignite a disastrous, widespread war in the Middle East.

Both China and Russia believe oil sanctions to be counterproductive, though each opposes any Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons.

Don’t Miss: Will China Unleash More Stimulus and Boost Gold Prices?

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com