(LinkAsia: January 27, 2012)
The European Union is increasing the pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program. It’s joining the US and the UK in the latest round of sanctions, which includes an embargo on Iranian oil. Japanese broadcaster NHK has our top story.
NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: January 23, 2012
The EU ministers made their decision at a meeting in Brussels. Their sanctions came in line with similar measures that were approved last month in the United States. The ministers agreed to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank. They want to cut off the main source of revenue for the government. The EU is the second-largest importer of Iranian oil. It accounts for nearly 20 percent of the total. Sources close to the talks say the ministers are focusing on how Iran will react to the decision, including the possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz. The strait is the only waterway to the open ocean for many areas around the Persian Gulf. NHK World’s Go Sawahata has just been there. He reports that it’s still busy, at least for now.
Go Sawahata (Reporter):
I reached the Strait of Hormuz by sailing up the coast of Oman. The Persian Gulf was busy with oil tankers from all over the world. Oman has military facilities near the Strait of Hormuz. Omani boats were on patrol. Iran conducted huge naval exercises in the area late last month. Iran has also just launched its latest missiles in a show of its military clout. The United States has deployed a second aircraft carrier in the area. Countries along the gulf have built up their military forces in case of tension with Iran. The United Arab Emirates signed a contract last month to buy the latest US missile interceptors. Saudi Arabia signed a deal to buy more F-15 fighters from the United States.
Theodore Karasik (Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis):
They’re increasingly buying more arms, as well as their recent experience in Libya, has taught them how to use air power effectively. So this is a nice combination of attributes to face off against Iran.
The big question is how Gulf States will export their oil if the Strait of Hormuz is closed. The UAE is building a pipeline to bypass the strait. But the pipeline won’t be finished for at least six months.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (UAE Foreign Minister):
I’ll do everything I can to keep oil production going.
Ninety percent of Japan’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. Japanese businesses are keeping a close eye on developments. This Japanese company is involved with production of oil in the UAE for export to Japan. Even if the Strait of Hormuz stays open, any more military tension will hit the company’s business.
Katsujiro Kida (Japan Oil Development):
Closure of the strait would create a situation beyond any company’s control. An accidental incident could trigger something that nobody wants to happen.
Tension between the West and Iran over Iranian nuclear program is at a critical level. There are fears of a regional war. The fate of the central artery for global oil transport is at stake.
An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in Tehran today after a motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to his car. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was a chemistry expert and director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Varying opinions are quickly emerging over who is to blame for the attack. Iran blames the US and Israel for the attack. "Does anyone doubt that some combination of the two nations completely obsessed with Iran's nuclear program...are responsible?" asks Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, however, is of a different opinion. He asks, "But is it in US national interest to bomb Iran to defend the principle of full cooperation with the IAEA? I would say no."
Roshan's death comes amid mounting tension between the US and Iran over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Earlier this week, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had begun enriching uranium at 20 percent at the Fordow plant near the city of Qom. The plant is buried deep underground a military site and is said to be far more resistant to military strikes than existing plants. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton responded to the news with a harsh tone."This step once again demonstrates the Iranian regime's blatant disregard for its responsibilities and that the country's growing isolation is self-inflicted," she said in a statement.
Since November 2011, the US and EU have taken significant steps to cut Iran out of the international financial network after IAEA published a report stating that Iran was involved in activities relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran immediately slammed the report as politically motivated and a fabrication by the US. Tehran claims its uranium enrichment program is for nuclear research and peaceful energy purposes. "No one has a full sense of the Iranian production plan there," said one diplomat who has studied the few details released by Iran about the Fordow plant. "And I think that’s the point." Meanwhile, former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolten, says the Iranians are "testing Western powers' resolve to stop their advance towards developing a bomb."
Iran's releationship with the West has steadily declined in recent weeks as the US enacted sanctions on Iran's central bank on January 1, and the EU is expected to impose an embargo on Iranian oil by the end of the month. Western sanctions seek to undercut the Iranian government by halting the country's largest source of revenue: oil sales. The Iranian Economic Minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, likened the sanctions to "an economic war." On December 27, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned that if the West followed through with its threats, Tehran would shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a 30-mile strategic waterway through which nearly one fourth of the world's oil passes every day. In the back-and-forth war of words, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded to the threat by saying that closing the strategic waterway would be a "red line" for the US.
Meanwhile, while Iran concluded a massive ten-day naval exercise last week stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden, some observers remain skeptical that US-Iran relations will escalate into a full-blown conflict. Iran analyst Michael Connel says the most likely outcome is "more bluster." Afshon Ostovar of Foreign Policy Magazine says that initiating a conflict with the US would be "a last-ditch, kamikaze act by the Iranians." However, he added, "as opportunities for compromise evaporate, and as relations continue to sour, the likelihood of war is steadily increasing."
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