'Iran takes conciliatory tone on EU relations'

Salehi says current state of affairs with Europeans cannot continue; Iran holds army exercise, "responding to US threats."

By JPOST.COM STAFF
February 20, 2012 15:38
3 minute read.
Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi

Salehi 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Salehi took a conciliatory tone on Tehran's relations with Europe on Monday, a day after cutting off oil sales to two key countries, saying that Europeans and Iran need one another, Iran's Mehr News reported.

Salehi said he believes relations with Europe will soon return to their "earlier state," adding that the current deteriorated state of ties cannot continue for long.

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"Europeans cannot be needless of us, and Iran, due to its old relations with European countries, needs Europe," he said.

On Sunday, Iran announced that it had stopped selling crude oil to British and French companies, a retaliatory measure against the latest round of European sanctions on the Islamic state's lifeblood, oil.

"Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped ... we will sell our oil to new customers," spokesman Alireza Nikzad was quoted as saying by the ministry of petroleum website.

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The European Union in January decided to stop importing crude from Iran from July 1 over its disputed nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at building bombs. Iran denies this.

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In a contradictory report, Iranian broadcaster PressTV quoted Iran's Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Kalebani, as threatening to stop selling oil to additional European countries.

Kalebani reportedly said Tehran would take further measures if "EU hostilities continue," according to PressTV, which listed Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Germany, Italy and Portugal as countries that could be targeted.

China rebuked Iran on Monday for stopping oil sales to British and French companies over the weekend, calling for renewed efforts at dialogue over an escalating stand-off over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

"We have consistently upheld dialogue and negotiation as the way to resolve disputes between countries, and do not approve of exerting pressure or using confrontation to resolve issues," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when asked about Iran's ban on oil sales to British and French firms.

Also on on Monday, Iran's Revolutionary Guards held a military exercise in the central province of Yazd, in response to "US threats and aggressions, especially its invasion of neighboring and regional states," the Fars news agency quoted the IRGC commander as saying.

"The grandeur and mightiness of the country's Armed Forces is a deterrent element against enemies' recent aggressions and threats,"Major General Mohammad Ali Jaffari was quoted as saying.

According to the report, the military drill, codenamed as Valfajr, was taking place in the Markazi Desert.  

IAEA inspectors arrive in Tehran for talks

Earlier in the day, a team of UN inspectors arrived in Tehran on Monday for talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Iran, has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks while also expressing willingness to resume negotiations on its nuclear program.

The five-member team from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will hold two days of talks in Iran, but Western diplomats have played down any hopes of a major breakthrough.

"I'm still pessimistic that Iran will demonstrate the substantive cooperation necessary," one envoy said in Vienna.

Yet the outcome of this week's discussions is important and will be watched closely because it could either intensify the standoff or offer scope to reduce tensions.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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