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Archive of BBC News articles concerning Iran
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12 January 2012 Last updated at 22:18


Iran nuclear: Ali Larijani accepts Turkey talks offer


Iran has said it has agreed to talks with six world powers on its controversial nuclear programme, days after the UN confirmed Tehran was producing 20% enriched uranium.

Visiting Turkey, parliament speaker Ali Larijani said he had accepted Ankara's offer to try to restart the talks.

Negotiations have stalled since a meeting in Istanbul a year ago.

Analysts say 20% enrichment is a major step to making nuclear weapons, but Iran says it is for peaceful purposes.

More sanctions have been imposed on Iran since the last talks, with the US and EU targeting its oil revenues.

Mr Larijani was speaking a day after a nuclear scientist was murdered in Tehran, an act that Iran blamed on the US and Israel.

'Serious' talks

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, the Iranian speaker said the attack, the fourth on Iranian scientists, showed "how weak Israel really is".

"If Israel thinks they can prevent our studies with four terrorist attacks, it's a very weak way of thinking. Everybody will learn that they can't stop us with such actions," he said.

But Mr Larijani said Iran was ready for "serious" talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.

"The negotiations can yield results if they are serious and not a game," he said.

However, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was still waiting for Iran to respond to a letter sent last October formally inviting Iran to the talks.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul says Mr Larijani is one of the most influential players in Iran's opaque political system, so his visit to Turkey carries more weight than his official title would suggest.

It comes at a difficult time for Iran-Turkey relations, with Turkish leaders denouncing the violent suppression of anti-government protests in Syria, and Iran irritated by Turkey's willingness to host part of a Nato missile defence shield.

But for its part, Turkey still relies heavily on its neighbour for energy supplies - Turkey gets about 30% of its oil from Iran - despite pressure from the US to cut back its commercial ties with Iran.

Tensions between Iran and the West have been especially high since the US imposed new sanctions on Iran's central bank and the EU said it would place an embargo on Iran's oil exports.

EU foreign ministers are due to meet to approve the embargo later this month.

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz - a key route from the Gulf through which 20% of the world's traded oil passes.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16538363
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13 January 2012 Last updated at 12:55

Iran nuclear expert buried as Russia warns on sanctions

The funeral of a nuclear scientist killed in a targeted car bomb attack has taken place in Tehran.

Thousands attended Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's funeral, state TV reported.

His death has further stoked tensions between Iran and the US and its allies who fear Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Russia has warned that new sanctions and any military action against Iran over its nuclear programme would be seen as attempted regime change.

Iran has blamed the US and Israel for the killing of the 32-year-old scientist, allegations the US has denied. Israel has not commented on the incident.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed to punish those behind the death of Mr Ahmadi-Roshan, who worked at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

"We will continue our path with strong will... and certainly we will not neglect punishing those responsible for this act," Mr Khamenei was quoted as saying by Iran's official Irna news agency.

Iran has called on the UN to investigate Mr Ahmadi-Roshan's death, according to Iran's Press TV.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has "categorically" denied US involvement in the bombing though Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has admitted: "We have some ideas as to who might be involved."

'Provocative'

Tehran said the death would not impede "progress" in its nuclear programme.

Washington and its allies suspect Iran of secretly trying to develop a nuclear weapons capacity but Iran insists the programme is peaceful.

Russia has warned that Israel is pushing for war with Iran.

"There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, towards which Israel is pushing the Americans," Kremlin Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev was quoted as telling Russia's Interfax news agency, AFP reports.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said this would be seen as direct intervention.

"Additional sanctions against Iran, as well as potentially any military strikes against it, will unquestionably be perceived by the international community as an attempt at changing the regime in Iran," Mr Gatilov said.

Western nations are imposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Japan's foreign minister has said that the imposition of any additional sanctions against Iran would have to be weighed carefully to ensure they prove effective.

Koichiro Gemba said that measures which caused an oil price rise would be counterproductive.

Correspondents say his remarks appear to backtrack on a pledge made on Thursday by Japan's finance minister to begin reducing Iranian oil imports.

In response to the sanctions, Tehran has threatened to block the transport of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, a threat which Ms Clinton has described as "provocative and dangerous".

On Friday, diplomats said a high-level International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation would visit the country in late January, to try and soothe relations between Iran and the US, AFP reports.

The UN's nuclear watchdog recently confirmed that Tehran had begun enriching uranium up to 20% at its underground northern Fordo plant.

Mr Ahmadi-Roshan died immediately when, according to Iranian news sources, two men on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his car and detonated it.

Protests planned for Thursday outside the French, German and British embassies would be held after Friday's funeral, according to Fars.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16543152
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15 January 2012 Last updated at 08:38


China angry at US sanctions on oil firm Zhuhai Zhenrong


China has criticised sanctions imposed by the US on a Chinese firm for selling refined petroleum products to Iran.

China's foreign ministry said imposing unilateral sanctions on Zhuhai Zhenrong based on US law was "unreasonable".

The US said on Thursday Zhuhai Zhenrong was one of three international firms to be punished for dealing with Iran.

It comes as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Arab oil-producing nations amid fears of major sanctions-related disruption to Iranian oil exports.

Mr Wen visited Saudi Arabia - China's biggest source of imported oil - on Saturday.

He told Saudi Prince Nayef both countries are "in important stages of development and there are broad prospects for enhancing cooperation," China's state-run news agency Xinhua reports.

"Both sides must strive together to expand trade and co-operation, upstream and downstream, in crude oil and natural gas," Mr Wen added.

During his visit, state-run Saudi oil giant Aramco and China's Sinopec finalised an initial agreement to build an oil refinery in the Red Sea city of Yanbu to deal with 400,000 barrels per day.

Sanctions biting

Later on Saturday, Beijing denounced Washington's decision to punish Zhuhai Zhenrong.

"Imposing sanctions on a Chinese company based on a domestic (US) law is totally unreasonable and does not conform to the spirit or content of the UN Security Council resolutions about the Iran nuclear issue,"

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

"China expressed its strong dissatisfaction and adamant opposition," he added.

Washington has accused Zhuhai Zhenrong of being the largest supplier of refined petroleum products to Iran.

The US state department said the sanctions - preventing the firms from receiving US export licences, US Export Import Bank financing or any loans over $10m from US financial institutions - were part of efforts to persuade Iran to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

The European Union has also agreed to follow the US by freezing Iranian central bank assets and impose an embargo on oil imports.

The sanctions on Iranian oil exports are of particular concern to China, which is under pressure to secure enough energy supplies to keep its economy going.

Iran is currently China's third largest supplier of oil, after Angola and Saudi Arabia.

Tehran has warned its Gulf neighbours against making up the shortfall in oil exports as the US and EU sanctions start to bite.

"We would not consider these actions to be friendly," Tehran's Opec representative, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, was quoted as saying on Sunday.

"If the oil producing nations on the Persian Gulf decide to substitute Iran's oil, then they will be held responsible for what happens," he added, in the Sharq newspaper's report.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-16565563
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16 January 2012 Last updated at 05:51

Iran warns Gulf nations against boosting oil production

Iran has warned Gulf nations against boosting their oil production saying they will be responsible for the consequences of any such move.

The warning comes as the US and European Union have been seeking to curb Iran's oil exports.

Leaders from various nations are travelling to the region in a bid to seek extra supplies to offset any shortfalls.

Iran has warned of retaliation against any output increase.

According to the Sharq daily newspaper, Mohammad Ali Khatibi, Iran's representative to Opec, said that "our Arab neighbour countries should not co-operate" with the US and European countries.

He added that any measures taken by the countries would not be perceived as "friendly", adding that if they give "the green light to replacing Iran's oil these countries would be the main culprits for whatever happens in the region - including the Strait of Hormuz".

Alternative sources?

Asian nations are amongst the biggest buyers of Iranian oil, with China, India, Japan and South Korea accounting for almost 50% of all of Tehran's shipments.

The US has been seeking the support of these countries in a bid to reduce Iran's oil exports as part of sanctions against the country.

However, given the speed with which their economies are growing, especially those of China and India, these nations require large quantities of oil. As a result any cuts in imports from Iran will have to be substituted by an increased supply from other sources.

That has seen leaders and policymakers from the region heading to the Middle East in a bid to secure extra supplies.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has held talks with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, China's biggest oil supplier.

At the same time, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik visited the region over the weekend, meeting leaders in Oman and the United Arab Emirates to discuss oil supplies.

"They would like to secure extra oil supplies in the event they have to comply with the oil embargo," Ker Chung Yang, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures told the BBC's Asia Business Report.

'Very important'

Though Asian nations have yet to announce any cuts in their imports from Iran, there have been fears of a shortfall in supplies.

"In the event any oil embargo is imposed on Iran, Asia is likely to feel the oil supply shortage in the short term," said Mr Ker of Phillip Futures.

The fear is that if supplies from Iran are hurt and are not substituted from another source, it may may result in higher oil prices.

Should oil costs rise significantly, then it would put pressure on consumer prices in the region, creating fresh problems for policymakers who have been trying to rein in inflation for the best part of the last year.

"For the Asia economies, a sustainable and continuous oil supply coming from the Middle East is very important," Mr Ker added.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16571040
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15 January 2012 Last updated at 16:15


Iran oil sanctions divide Asia's four largest economies
By Puneet Pal Singh Business Reporter, BBC News, Singapore


Oil has been one of the most politically sensitive commodities over the years. And now Asia's four largest economies are finding out how difficult it is to balance political will with economic reality.

As the US and European Union move to cut Iran's oil exports, China, Japan, India and South Korea are having to tread the fine line between international relations and national needs.

China, Asia's largest and the world's second-largest economy, is yet to give any hint if it will reduce its imports from Iran, despite a visit by the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to Beijing to discuss the issue.

The signals coming out of India indicate it is keen to continue its relationship with Tehran.

On the other hand, Japan says it will take steps to reduce its reliance on Iranian oil. While South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, is likely to follow suit, despite not having committed to anything as yet.

The difference in their approaches and their respective stands, are likely to have a bearing not just on the oil market but also on the success of the embargoes and their impact on Asia.

"It will really depend on individual countries and how they embrace the European and and the US sanctions," Amrita Sen of Barclays Capital tells the BBC.

'Complex situation'

The main focus is likely to be the stand that China takes on the issue. Beijing is the largest importer of Iranian oil in Asia, accounting for almost 20% of all shipments from Tehran.


Any reduction in that amount is likely to hurt Iran. However, analysts say there is little chance of China making any such move.

"It is a complex situation as there is politics and economics involved," says Stephen Joske of the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"As far as politics is concerned, it was clear during the Arab Spring that China maintains a status quo against the governments in the region," he adds.

"On the economic front, China is far more reliant on imported oil than it has ever been in the past."

China's rapid growth in recent years has seen a surge in demand for oil in the country. Goldman Sachs has forecast that it will become the world's largest importer of oil within the next one-and-a-half years.

It currently imports almost 11% of its oil from Iran and analysts say given the huge domestic demand, it is unlikely that China will reduce the amount.

At the same time, China's political equation with the US may also play a part. Analysts say that Beijing is becoming increasingly wary of being told by the US on how to shape its policies.

"We are getting to a point where China is saying enough is enough, we are not going to be a part of this," says Tony Regan of business consultancy firm Tri-Zen.

'Securing future supplies'

India is also a major importer of Iranian oil in Asia and unlike China, it has far more cordial and closer political relations with the US.
An Iranian worker stands in front of the South Pars gas field The US has been trying to curb Iran's oil exports which are big source of its national income

However, Indian authorities are more likely to follow Beijing rather than Washington on this issue.

"They are both rising superpowers and both are huge consumers of oil," says Ms Sen of Barclays Capital. "For them price matters and since volumes are huge they don't want to get involved in any such plans."

Ms Sen adds that historically India and Iran have enjoyed good relations and they are likely to continue to do business together.

"This is about securing future supplies," she explains.

Any doubts of which way India may go have been laid to rest after the Indian government said it will send a delegation to Tehran this week to discuss oil supplies and ways in which it can settle payments with the Iranian Central Bank.
Toeing the line?

The US has found some support from its long standing ally Japan. The Japanese finance minister Jun Azumi, assured Mr Geithner during his visit to Tokyo last week, that it will reduce oil imports from Iran.

At the same time, South Korea's knowledge economy minister Hong Suk-woo has been quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying that though it was too early to say if it would cut imports, Seoul's "basic stance is to co-operate with the US".

Together Japan and South Korea account for more than 20% of Iranian exports and a big reduction from them will have a significant impact.

However, analyst say that despite the rhetoric from both sides, they are unlikely to make drastic changes.

"I don't think they will cut all imports. They will do just enough to show that they have made attempts to reduce these imports and replace them with other sources," Victor Shum of Purvin & Gertz tells the BBC.

"They want to get waivers from the US so that Japanese and Korean companies can keep doing business with Iranian Central Bank," he adds.

Japan's decision will also be influenced by an increased demand for oil after the earthquake and tsunami last year.

The twin disasters resulted in various nuclear power plants being shutdown. As a result utility providers have had to turn to thermal power stations which require oil to operate, resulting in a rise in demand.

The Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said he will consult the business community before making a final decision on cutting any oil imports from Iran.

So even with the political will to stand by the US and European Union, Tokyo will have to first address the economic realities at home.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16541482
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18 January 2012 Last updated at 15:45

Iran nuclear: Russia's Lavrov warns against attack

The Russian foreign minister has warned that a Western military strike against Iran would be "a catastrophe".

Sergei Lavrov said an attack would lead to "large flows" of refugees from Iran and would "fan the flames" of sectarian tension in the Middle East.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak earlier said any decision on an Israeli attack on Iran was "very far off".

Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister said talks on its nuclear programme would "most probably" take place in Istanbul.

Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters during a visit to Turkey that negotiations were going on about venue and date, and the timings would be settled soon.

But the UK Foreign Office said that there were "no dates or concrete plans" for talks, as Tehran was "yet to demonstrate clearly that it is willing to respond to [EU foreign policy chief] Baroness Ashton's letter and negotiate without preconditions.

"Until it does so, the international community will only increase pressure on it through further peaceful and legitimate sanctions."

Analysis
Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

As economic sanctions against Tehran begin to bite, the mounting tensions both between Israel and Iran on the one hand and between the US and Iran on the other have prompted growing concerns that a military clash could fast be approaching.

This is the context for the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's warning that a western strike on Iran - be it from Israel or the US - would prompt "a catastrophe".

Well aware of the current upheavals across the region, Mr Lavrov says that such an attack would "pour fuel on the fire of hidden Sunni-Shia confrontation that is already smouldering" and might prompt "a chain reaction".

Talks between Iran and six world powers - the US, UK, China, France, Russia and Germany - were last held in Istanbul a year ago but no progress was made.

A Western diplomat told the BBC that Iran was "chasing headlines" and "pretending that it was ready to engage". Tehran was "more interested in propaganda" than in sitting down without preconditions, he said.
Sanctions

Tensions with Iran have risen in recent weeks after the UN's nuclear monitors confirmed Tehran was producing 20% enriched uranium at its Fordo plant near Qom.

The US and its allies suspect the Islamic Republic of secretly trying to develop a nuclear weapons capacity but Iran insists its programme is peaceful.

The US has recently imposed sanctions on Iran's central bank and against three oil companies which trade with the country. The European Union has said it will place an embargo on Iran's oil exports.

For its part, Iran has threatened to block the transport of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping route.

The comments from Russia's foreign minister included criticism of the Western moves to strengthen sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which he said were aimed at "stifling" Iran's economy.

Mr Lavrov told journalists in Moscow that they would have to ask those who he said were "talking constantly" about a military attack to find out if it would occur. He said such an attack would start off a "chain reaction" and he did not know how that would end.


Israel - thought to be the only nuclear power in the region - has said it could launch a military strike against Iran to prevent it developing nuclear weapons.

Last week, Iran blamed Israel and the US for the death of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, an Iranian nuclear scientist apparently killed by a bomb targeting his car in Tehran.

US concern

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Mr Barak's comments can be seen as an attempt to placate the Americans, who are growing concerned that Israel may take military action against Iran without alerting Washington in advance.

The Israeli defence minister, speaking on Israel's army radio, implied that any plans would be co-ordinated with the US.

"I don't think our ties with the United States are such that they have no idea what we are talking about," he said.

The US defence chief General Martin Dempsey is due to arrive in Israel on Thursday for his first visit since becoming chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in September. On his agenda are meetings with various Israeli officials including Mr Barak.

Haaretz reports that Israel will present Gen Dempsey with an intelligence assessment that indicates Iran has "not yet decided" whether to make a nuclear bomb.

It is not clear when Iran might make the decision to use its nuclear capabilities to manufacture a weapon, the paper says.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16613485
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11 January 2012 Last updated at 13:45


Iran and the undeclared campaign


The assassination on Wednesday of another Iranian nuclear scientist may now prompt Iran to try to respond in kind.

The murder in Tehran of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan is the fourth such attack on Iran's scientists in just two years.

It comes on top of a sophisticated cyber sabotage programme and two mysterious explosions at Iranian military bases, one of which in November killed the general known as 'the godfather' of Iran's ballistic missile programme.

No-one is claiming responsibility for these attacks but Iran blames its longstanding enemy, Israel, and occasionally the US.

Whoever is behind them, Iran is clearly being subjected to an undeclared campaign to slow down its nuclear programme, which the West and Israel suspect is aimed at developing an atomic bomb.

The latest Iranian scientist to die was killed by a magnetic bomb, attached to his car, a Peugeot 405, by two men on a motorbike.

Whoever was targeting him clearly knew his route, his car and his timings.

The small, professionally made device was designed to kill its victim but cause only limited damage to the surroundings.

It bears a striking similarity to the bomb used in November 2010 to kill another nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari.

Attacks on Iranian scientists

Jan 2012 - Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a professor at the Technical University of Tehran, died after bomb was placed on his car by a motorcyclist

Nov 2010 - Majid Shahriari, member of nuclear engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University, killed in Tehran after bomb attached to his car by motorcyclist in Tehran. Another scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi Davani - future head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran - is hurt in a separate attack

Jan 2010 - Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a physics professor, died when a motorcycle rigged with explosives exploded near his car

A motorbike bomb killed a physics professor earlier that year and another device narrowly missed killing the man tipped to be the next head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

'Decapitation strategy'

Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, who was killed on Wednesday, was both a university lecturer and a senior supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.

In such a secretive country as Iran it is hard to determine how much difference, if any, his death will make to the accelerating nuclear programme which experts in the West believe may now have overcome many of the earlier obstacles to building a bomb.

"It's conceivable it could have an impact on retarding the programme", says Mark Fitzpatrick, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.

"There are a few key technical areas that Iran has not yet mastered... so a decapitation strategy is an effective measure for retarding this process. But it may be that Iran is beyond this point".

So who is behind this undeclared campaign?

No-one is putting their hand up, but Israel has made no secret of its delight at any setbacks to Iran's nuclear programme, which it fears may soon become a threat to its existence.

In the past its officials have either denied any part in the attacks or refused to comment. But Israel's overseas intelligence agency Mossad is believed to have one of the best networks of informants and operatives in the Middle East.

In 2011 an Iranian confessed to being recruited by Mossad to assassinate a scientist earlier in the year, although coerced confessions are commonplace in Iran.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President Ahmadinejad insists that Iran's nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes

The Stuxnet computer virus, stealthily introduced into Iran's nuclear programme in 2009 and which wreaked temporary damage on its centrifuges, is believed to be the work of US, Israeli and possibly British cyber experts.

Retaliation?

So far, Iran has not responded to these attacks, other than loudly condemning them and vowing to continue its nuclear programme.

But this latest killing could prove to be the proverbial straw on the camel's back, prompting Iran's powerful intelligence agency, Etilaat, and the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force to carry out some attacks of their own overseas.

If they wanted to retaliate against the US they certainly have enough operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan to make life difficult for the Americans there.

Striking out at Israel's nuclear scientists would be harder - they are said to be well guarded and Israeli intelligence has been bracing for some kind of Iranian reaction.

Sir Richard Dalton, Britain's Ambassador to Iran from 2002 to 2006 and now an associate fellow at the UK think tank, Chatham House, believes the undeclared campaign against Iran's nuclear scientists is entering a dangerous phase.

"The next step is for Iran to answer like for like" says Dalton.

"If a state is behind this then this is international state terrorism and it's inviting a response. It looks like a further twist that will lead to a tit-for-tat"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16513186
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20 January 2012 Last updated at 15:57

Iran's Press TV loses UK licence

Iranian news network Press TV has had its licence revoked by the media regulator Ofcom and will no longer be allowed to broadcast in the UK.

Ofcom said the state broadcaster's English language outlet had breached several broadcasting licence rules over editorial control of the channel.

Press TV has also failed to pay a 100,000 fine imposed last year.

The channel called the decision "a clear example of censorship". It will be removed from Sky on 20 January.

The 100,000 fine was imposed last year after the network broadcast an interview with imprisoned Newsweek and Channel 4 journalist Maziar Bahari, which the Ofcom said had been conducted under duress.

Ofcom said Press TV had "indicated it is unwilling and unable to pay".

It was during the investigation into the Bahari interview that the media regulator formed the impression that editorial decisions on the channel were being controlled by the offices in Tehran, instead of the UK.

Press TV was given the opportunity to respond and make the relevant amendments needed to comply with the broadcasting code, but "failed to make the necessary application", Ofcom said.

In a statement issued to the BBC, Press TV's newsroom director Mr Hamid Emadi said: "We asked Ofcom if Press TV Limited did not have control over the broadcast, why was it getting fined, if it did have control, why would the licence be revoked?

"Ofcom contradictions are nothing new for Press TV. The British government's tool to control the media has, on several occasions, changed its decisions regarding Press TV in its two-year campaign against the alternative news channel."

The statement also claimed that Ofcom, which it called "the media arm of the Royal family", had failed to respond to a letter sent by its Chief Executive earlier this month.

Press TV channel launched in 2007 to break what Iran's state broadcaster called a Western "stranglehold" over the world's media.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16652356
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21 January 2012 Last updated at 01:22

Israel's fears of a nuclear Iran
By James Reynolds BBC News, Jerusalem


On a cold morning in Jerusalem, US General Martin Dempsey enters the main hall of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial. As he steps through the door, he removes his military cap as a sign of respect and replaces it with a Jewish skullcap.

A minute later, he is told that he can wear his own cap - and he makes a discreet swap of his headgear. The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff then lays a wreath in remembrance of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

It is a familiar ritual. Each official visitor to Israel is taken to Yad Vashem. The visit is meant to convey Israel's central message: the Jewish people were once nearly destroyed - the state must protect against similar threats in the future.

Some in Israel believe that this threat now comes from Iran - a subject that the Israeli government was keen to discuss with General Dempsey.

"I believe that Iran has its own ambition to revive the Persian Empire and they would like to do it by taking control of all of the Middle East," says Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom during an interview at his offices in Tel Aviv. "They believe that a nuclear bomb is the only way for them to become an empire or to become a superpower."

On the walls of his office there is a large picture of Mr Shalom standing between two former US presidents, Bill Clinton and George W Bush. Israel is proud of its long-term alliance with the United States. But the two countries have noticeable differences over how to interpret the scale of Iran's nuclear activities.

Red lines

Some in Israel suggest that Iran is trying to build an actual nuclear bomb. But the Pentagon disagrees.

"'Are they [Iran] trying to develop a nuclear weapon ? No. But we know that they are trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us," US defence secretary Leon Panetta told CBS News on 8 January.

Silvan Shalom sees Iran's ambitions with less subtlety. His voice rises as he speaks.

"We know what the Iranians are trying to develop and we know very well that the Iranians will do everything they can to have a nuclear bomb and I believe that we should realise that and not to argue between ourselves if they are having those intentions or not.

"It's ridiculous. They have it. What we should do is to stop them."

But how?

Israel's military chief of staff, Lt-Gen Benny Gantz, warned recently that Iran could expect "unnatural events" in 2012. His comments were soon followed by the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran by unidentified motorcyclists.

Iran accuses Israel of leading a covert offensive against Iran's nuclear programme. Israel's leaders remain silent on covert activities. But, in recent months, discussion of an overt Israeli military strike against Iran has increased to such an extent that the government now feels the need to calm the speculation.


"The whole thing is very far away," the Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on 18 January.

"None of us would like to go to a military option," adds Silvan Shalom. "But of course Israel cannot live with the idea that lunatics like the Iranian regime will be the one that can take a decision if they would like to destroy the state of Israel or not."

How big a risk?

But not everyone in Israel believes that Iran poses such a serious existential threat. Martin van Creveld, a military historian, says that Israel exaggerates the dangers posed by the Persian state.

"We are very self-centred; we are taught from day one that the whole world is against us that everybody hates us for no good reason and we are the righteous victims. It's a position that Israelis love and it's very useful to us," he says.

Mr van Creveld speaks from a small office in his home outside Jerusalem. Some of the 20 books he has written sit on the top shelf next to his computer. He appears to enjoy opposing mainstream Israeli opinion.

"Iran is a dangerous country but not to us," he says, "Israel is far away. Israel has got what it takes to deter Iran if necessary."

So, what happens in the Middle East if Iran gains a nuclear capability?

"Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Nothing happens," he says.

The historian believes that a nuclear Iran would help to keep the peace in the Middle East - just as nuclear weapons kept the peace between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Bushehr nuclear plant (26 October 2010) Israelis differ on how big a threat the Iranian nuclear programme is to their country

"I think this is not a valid analogy," says Michael Herzog, who used to run the Israeli army's strategic planning division.

"During the Cold War you had two actors who were very careful about what they owned and there were channels of communication between them," he says.

"If Iran holds a nuclear weapon without any channels of communication with Israel, given the state of relations between Iran and Israel, I think this calls for very heightened tension and potential nuclear crisis between the parties."

The Israeli establishment believes that Iran poses a serious threat to Israel's well-being. But there is one important question to put to its deputy prime minister.

But Israel is not defenceless. It has a powerful army and an undeclared nuclear capability of its own.

Surely a country would have to be suicidal to attack Israel?

"That's always the problem that we have with nice friends like you," Silvan Shalom says.

"You think in a Western way. In the Middle East, they think differently. It doesn't match. What for you looks illogical, for others it can make sense.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16655995
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23 January 2012 Last updated at 18:19

EU Iran sanctions: Ministers adopt Iran oil imports ban


European Union foreign ministers have formally adopted an "unprecedented" oil embargo against Iran over its nuclear programme, banning all new oil contracts with the country.

They also agreed a freeze on the assets of Iran's central bank in the EU.

The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports.

There was no official Iranian reaction, but one Iranian lawmaker played down the decision, calling it a "mere propaganda gesture".

Iran had "failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme", British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.

"We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region," the leaders added.

The measures were "another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran," US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement welcoming the move.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog has confirmed it is sending a team to Iran between 29 and 31 January "to resolve all outstanding substantive issues".

Last November the IAEA said in a report that it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device" - sparking the decision by the US and EU to issue tougher sanctions.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy purposes.

Earlier on Monday, the Pentagon said the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as a British Royal Navy frigate and a French warship, had passed through the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf without incident, in the wake of Iranian threats to block the trade route.

'Substantial impact'

The EU said the sanctions prohibit the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products as well as related finance and insurance. All existing contracts will have to be phased out by 1 July.

Investment as well as the export of key equipment and technology for Iran's petrochemical sector is also banned.
Iran oil exports

Additional restrictions have been placed on Iran's central bank and in the trade of gold, precious metals and diamonds.

BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt says it is one of the toughest steps the EU has ever taken.

Analysis
Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

So once the new measures are in place how successful will they be? Even western diplomats are uncertain.

There is no doubting that the Iranian economy will suffer. But the nuclear programme is a matter of national pride and ultimately national security.

Iran has seen the demise of regimes in Iraq and Libya and noted the survival of that in North Korea - the one so-called "rogue state" that has nuclear weapons.

Iran's rulers may well believe that having at least the potential for a nuclear bomb is something that could secure the country against outside threat.

Seen in this light one can imagine the Iranian authorities being willing to absorb considerable economic pain to pursue their nuclear research effort.


Impact of EU ban on Iranian oil

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the purpose of the sanctions was "to put pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiating table".

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the embargo showed "the resolve of the European Union on this issue".

"It is absolutely right to do this when Iran is continuing to breach United Nations resolutions and refusing to come to meaningful negotiations on its nuclear programme," he added.

But the Russian foreign ministry said it was a "deeply mistaken" move that would not encourage Iran to return to the negotiating table.

"It's apparent that in this case there is open pressure and diktat, aimed at "punishing" Iran," it said in a statement.

Ali Adyani, a member of the Iranian parliament's energy commission, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying the EU decision "would only serve some American and European politicians".

"It will not have any effect on Iran's economy," he said, adding that Tehran could sell oil to "any country" despite the ban

.
Rising tensions

BBC Iran correspondent James Reynolds says oil is the country's most valuable asset and sales help to keep the Iranian government in money and power.

A decision by the EU to stop buying from Iran may damage the Iranian economy - but in itself it won't destroy it, our correspondent says.

Iran sells most of its oil to countries in Asia. The EU and the United States are now working to persuade Asian countries to reduce their purchases from Iran as well.

Iran has already threatened to retaliate by blocking the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, through which 20% of the world's oil exports pass.

The US has said it will keep the trade route open, raising the possibility of a confrontation.

Late last year Iran conducted 10 days of military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, test-firing several missiles.

Oil prices have risen already because of the increasing tension and the expected impact of an EU ban on oil supplies to Europe.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16674660
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23 January 2012 Last updated at 12:03


What will be the impact of the EU ban on Iranian oil?
By Jonathan Marcus BBC Defence and Diplomatic Correspondent

The oil ban agreed by the European Union, which will be phased in over a period of months to try to reduce the impact on some of the weaker European economies, is the most significant toughening of sanctions to date.

The EU is also to bring in restrictions on the Central Bank of Iran and to expand a range of other existing measures intended to constrain Iran's ability to do business abroad.

The new sanctions, coming just as a US naval flotilla accompanied by British and French warships is testing the freedom of passage in the Strait of Hormuz, are inevitably going to ratchet up tensions.

They raise a host of fundamental questions. What impact will the oil ban have? Is there any chance that it will encourage Iran to halt its uranium enrichment programme? And if not, could the sanctions instead bring the various parties closer to some kind of military or naval clash?

Conflicting signals

Europe accounts for about 20% of Iran's oil exports.
Iranians queue to use the cashpoint in Tehran on 23 January 2012 The sanctions are more likely to hit ordinary Iranians than the country's elite

Greece is heavily dependent on Iran, from which it buys about one third of its oil.

Italy and Spain each buy a little over 10% of their oil from Tehran. They will all now have to seek supplies elsewhere.

The ban is to be phased in to minimise disruption. And it looks pretty clear that other suppliers like the Saudis - despite Iranian threats - are willing to step up to cover the additional output required.

Nobody of course wants to see an oil crisis that might set prices spiralling.

Iran's customers in Europe are among the weakest economies in the EU. And any significant price rise would only benefit Iran's exports elsewhere.

Of course Iran's major customers are not in Europe but in Asia.

It is here that the fate of this sanctions round will be determined. The US has sought - so far with only limited success - to persuade South Korea and Japan to scale back their imports of Iranian crude.

China, which buys over one fifth of Iran's oil, is clearly the key. It is sending conflicting signals.

On the one hand, it appears to have significantly cut back on orders from Iran and sought to bolster its ties with other Gulf producers.

However, it is by no means clear if this is a desire to warn Iran diplomatically or a manoeuvre intended to strike the hardest bargain once the Iranian oil sector is under pressure.

Survival

So once the new measures are in place, how successful will they be?

Even Western diplomats are uncertain. There is no doubting that the Iranian economy will suffer. But the nuclear programme is a matter of national pride and ultimately national security.

Iran has seen the demise of regimes in Iraq and Libya and noted the survival of that in North Korea - the one so-called "rogue state" that has nuclear weapons.

Iran's rulers may well believe that having at least the potential for a nuclear bomb is something that could secure the country against outside threat.

Seen in this light, one can imagine the Iranian authorities being willing to absorb considerable economic pain to pursue their nuclear research effort.

Of course, it is the Iranian people who will suffer the consequences rather than the Iranian elite itself.

Iran oil exports

Some in the West hope for a full-fledged change of regime.

But there has always been an ambivalence in Western policy on this subject, and Iran's opposition forces have shown little sign of gaining a second wind in the wake of the upheavals of the "Arab Spring".

Escalation risk

In the short-term at least, tensions are likely to rise.

There is still uncertainty about Israel's options. Will it strike Iran's nuclear facilities in 2012? For now the Americans seem to be trying to persuade the Israelis to give sanctions and diplomatic pressure more time.

But the threat of an Israeli attack has now been replaced by a more imminent potential flashpoint - Iran's threat to close the vital artery of the Strait of Hormuz.

A clash here could so easily escalate into a broader conflict with Iran. And given the febrile state of the region, this could easily turn into a much wider war.

All the talk of potential "air strikes" against Iranian facilities are weasel words. It is war with Iran that some may be contemplating.

And the danger is that war could erupt through misunderstanding as much as by design.

The European Union's move to impose a ban on imports of Iranian oil marks a significant toughening of sanctions against Tehran.

A battery of additional measures expected to be announced will undoubtedly have an impact upon Iran's already ailing economy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16678342
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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16693484

23 January 2012 Last updated at 21:43

Iran: EU oil sanctions 'unfair' and 'doomed to fail'


Iran has said an oil embargo adopted by European Union foreign ministers over the country's nuclear programme is "unfair" and "doomed to fail".

The measures would not prevent Iran's "progress for achieving its basic rights", foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

The sanctions ban all new oil contracts with Iran and freeze the assets of Iran's central bank in the EU.

The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports.

"European officials and other countries which are under America's political pressure... should consider their national interests and not deprive themselves of Iran's oil to help US officials achieve their secret aims," Mr Mehmanparast added.

He accused the US of trying to create "problems with energy supply requirements in countries which are America's economic rivals".

US President Barack Obama has welcomed the EU sanctions, saying they show international unity against the "serious threat" posed by Iran's nuclear programme.
Warships on the move

Analysis
Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

So once the new measures are in place, how successful will they be? Even Western diplomats are uncertain.

There is no doubting that the Iranian economy will suffer. But the nuclear programme is a matter of national pride and ultimately national security.

Iran has seen the demise of regimes in Iraq and Libya and noted the survival of that in North Korea - the one so-called "rogue state" that has nuclear weapons.

Iran's rulers may well believe that having at least the potential for a nuclear bomb is something that could secure the country against outside threat.

Seen in this light one can imagine the Iranian authorities being willing to absorb considerable economic pain to pursue their nuclear research effort.


Impact of EU ban on Iranian oil

The sanctions were formally adopted at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Iran had "failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme", British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.

"We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region," the leaders added.

The measures were "another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran", US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog has confirmed it is sending a team to Iran between 29 and 31 January "to resolve all outstanding substantive issues".

Last November the IAEA said in a report that it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy purposes.

Earlier on Monday, the Pentagon said the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as a British Royal Navy frigate and a French warship, had passed through the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf without incident, following Iranian threats to block the trade route.

Russian opposition

The EU said the sanctions prohibit the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products as well as related finance and insurance. All existing contracts will have to be phased out by 1 July.

Investment as well as the export of key equipment and technology for Iran's petrochemical sector is also banned.
Iran oil exports

BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt says it is one of the toughest steps the EU has ever taken.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the purpose of the sanctions was "to put pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiating table".

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the embargo showed "the resolve of the European Union on this issue".

"It is absolutely right to do this when Iran is continuing to breach United Nations resolutions," he added.

But the Russian foreign ministry said it was a "deeply mistaken" move that would not encourage Iran to return to the negotiating table.

"It's apparent that in this case there is open pressure and diktat, aimed at "punishing" Iran," it said in a statement.

BBC Iran correspondent James Reynolds says the decision may damage the Iranian economy - but in itself it won't destroy it.

Iran sells most of its oil to countries in Asia. The EU and the United States are now working to persuade Asian countries to reduce their purchases from Iran as well.

Iran has already threatened to retaliate by blocking the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, through which 20% of the world's oil exports pass.

The US has said it will keep the trade route open, raising the possibility of a confrontation.

Late last year Iran conducted 10 days of military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, test-firing several missiles.

Oil prices have risen already because of the increasing tension and the expected impact of an EU ban on oil supplies to Europe.
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23 January 2012 Last updated at 15:56

Dubai's Iranians worry about EU sanctions

The BBC's James Reynolds visits Dubai where many people export goods to Iran

As the European Union decides to ban oil imports and impose other economic restrictions on Iran, the BBC's James Reynolds speaks to Iranians living in Dubai about the effects it could have on their livelihoods.

Dozens of black and grey sacks are lined up next to the edge of Dubai creek.

Workers pick up the sacks and pass them on to a battered boat.

On board, three men confer quietly - perhaps about the 15-hour trip they face to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

Anwar Etebari watches his workers. The sacks contain textiles that he is exporting to Iran, his native country.

"What do you think of the new sanctions against Iran?" I ask him.

A reflection bounces off his sunglasses as he struggles to reply in English. "Big problem," he says.

In broken sentences, he explains that financial sanctions imposed by both the United States and the European Union will make it more difficult for even legitimate Iranian businesses to operate.

Alternative market

All along Dubai creek, dozens of ships are ready to take goods to Iran.

About a third of Dubai's population originates from Iran - many keep close ties to their homeland.

Their ships export refrigerators and cars to Iran. They work as a supply line and a lifeline to the Iranian state.

In Dubai, the influence of Iran is clear.

Well after midnight, the Shiraz Nights restaurant serves Iranian lamb kebabs.
Workers at Dubai Creek Iranians both inside and outside the country are uncertain how the sanctions will affect them

In the day, many stroll along the creek. Further out lie the open waters of the Gulf itself.

Iran exports its oil through these waters. The export of oil helps the Iranian government stay in both money and power.

Now Iran must find an alternative market for the oil it has sold to Europe.

In turn, Europe must find new sources of oil to make up for the crude that it used to import from Iran.

This may cause problems.

"If any limitation is set on the price of oil you can expect the oil price to go up," says Robin Amlot, Managing Editor of 'Banker Middle East' magazine in Dubai. "It's that simple."

It is a point made also made by Iran.

"The European countries should be sure that Iran's oil will not remain without a consumer, but the psychological effects of Europe's decision will lead to a sharp increase in crude oil prices in world markets," Iran's former oil minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh has told Iran's Mehr news agency.

But this warning conceals the difficulties that Iran now faces.

Citizens inside Iran appear uncertain of the effect of the new sanctions. In recent months their currency has lost much of it value against the dollar. Reports suggest that some have decided to stockpile provisions in case life gets worse.

Iran's guaranteed income from its most valuable asset - its oil - is now in question. Its tankers in the Gulf which once headed to Europe will now have to find somewhere else to go.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16685330
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24 January 2012 Last updated at 13:07


Iran escalation 'could see UK forces sent to Gulf'
HMS Argyll HMS Argyll was part of a US-led carrier group which passed through the Strait of Hormuz


An escalation of a dispute with Iran could see Britain sending military reinforcements to the Gulf, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.

Sending HMS Argyll as part of an international warship flotilla through the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday was a "clear signal" to Tehran, he said.

Iran has threatened to close the strait in retaliation for sanctions against its oil exports.

In total, 35% of the world's tanker-borne oil passes through the strait.

Asked if more resources could be sent to the region, Mr Hammond said: "The UK has a contingent capability to reinforce that presence should at any time it be considered necessary to do so."

He was speaking at a London press conference following the annual round of talks between UK and Australian foreign and defence ministers.

The European Union agreed sanctions on Monday to ban all new oil contracts with Iran and freeze the assets of Iran's central bank in the EU. Iran said the embargo is "unfair" and "doomed to fail".

Analysis
Jonathan Beale Defence correspondent, BBC News

The defence secretary has suggested that Britain might reinforce its naval presence in the Gulf as tensions rise with Iran.

But senior officers in the Royal Navy will be scratching their heads and asking with what? Defence cuts have left the Navy with 19 frigates and destroyers.

Five of those are currently in maintenance. With the Navy's continuing commitments in the Gulf, counter-piracy, defending the Falklands and home waters, there's not much slack. Added to that the Navy's two largest ships, HMS Ocean and HMS Bulwark, will soon be tied up with providing Olympic security.

The two frigates currently in the Gulf, HMS Argyle and HMS Somerset, are due to be replaced by HMS Daring and HMS Westminster. The best the Royal Navy could would perhaps be to delay the rotation - and remind ministers that they don't have enough ships.


The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the sanctions represented "a significant increase in peaceful and legitimate pressure on the Iranian government to return to negotiations over its nuclear programme.

"Until it does so the pressure will only increase."

International support

Meanwhile, Australia's foreign minister Kevin Rudd said his country, whose exports to Iran have decreased, would also enforce the EU ban on Iranian crude oil exports.

"It is not just that we endorse the actions taken in Brussels for Europe, we of course will do the same for Australia," he said.

"The message needs to be delivered to the people of Iran, to the political elites as well as the government of Iran, that their behaviour is globally unacceptable.

"This is not a piece of idle philanthropy on the part of Australian foreign policy, this costs. But it is a cost worth paying."

Oil imports from Iran to Australia were now "negligible", he added.

US President Barack Obama has welcomed the EU sanctions, saying they show international unity against the "serious threat" posed by Iran's nuclear programme.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16701013
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26 January 2012 Last updated at 15:57

Nuclear row: Iran President Ahmadinejad offers talks


Iran is ready to revive talks with the West but tougher sanctions will not force it to give in to demands over its nuclear programme, its president says.

On Monday, the EU banned new oil contracts with Iran, saying it was not confident Tehran's nuclear plans were "exclusively peaceful".

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it was evident that "those who resort to coercion are opposed to talks".

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy purposes.

Negotiations between Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany ended in a stalemate in January 2011.

President Ahmadinejad is the highest-ranking Iranian official since then to offer to resume talks.

In a speech made in Kerman, southeastern Iran, and broadcast on state television, he accused the West of trying to ruin negotiations in order to put increased pressure on Iran.

"It is the West that needs Iran and the Iranian nation will not lose from the sanctions," the president said.

"It is you who come up with excuses each time and issue resolutions on the verge of talks so that negotiations collapse,'' he said.

"Why should we shun talks? Why and how should a party that has logic and is right shun talks? It is evident that those who resort to coercion are opposed to talks and always bring pretexts and blame us instead."

BBC correspondent Kasra Naji says Tehran has failed to clarify exactly what kind of talks it is prepared to enter into.

In the last two rounds of meetings, in Turkey and Geneva, Iranian officials were happy to talk about anything except the West's concerns about its nuclear programme, our correspondent added.

EU sanctions

EU foreign ministers formally adopted the sanctions against Iran at a meeting in Brussels.

In a joint statement, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Iran had "failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme".

The EU said the sanctions prohibit the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products as well as related finance and insurance. All existing contracts will have to be phased out by 1 July.

Investment as well as the export of key equipment and technology for Iran's petrochemical sector is also banned.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the purpose of the sanctions was "to put pressure on Iran to come back to the negotiating table".

Iran branded the embargo "unfair" and "doomed to fail", but it was welcomed by US President Barack Obama, who said it showed international unity against the "serious threat" posed by Iran's nuclear programme.

The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports.

IAEA Iran visit

Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog confirmed it would send a team to Iran between 29 and 31 January "to resolve all outstanding substantive issues".

In a report last November the IAEA said it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Iran sells most of its oil to countries in Asia. The EU and the United States are now working to persuade Asian countries to reduce their purchases from Iran as well.

But Beijing has criticised the European Union for its ban. China - a big importer of Iranian crude oil - has long opposed unilateral sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector. It says the nuclear dispute should be resolved through dialogue.

On Thursday, China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted its foreign ministry as saying: "To blindly pressure and impose sanctions on Iran are not constructive approaches."

Iran has already threatened to retaliate to the sanctions against it by blocking the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, through which 20% of the world's oil exports pass.

The US has said it will keep the trade route open, raising the possibility of a confrontation.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16746683
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27 January 2012 Last updated at 08:09


Iran border guards 'kill six Pakistanis'
map

At least six Pakistanis have been shot dead and two others wounded by Iranian border guards after they crossed the border, Pakistani officials say.

Officials say the incident occurred on Thursday on the Iranian side of the border close to Pakistan's south-western Balochistan province.

The wounded men and the corpses of the six others are yet to be handed over to the Pakistani authorities.

Reports say the men were livestock traders.

"Six of them were killed in firing by Iranian border forces and two others were wounded," local police official, Mujeebur Rehman, in the port town of Gwadar told the AFP news agency.

Earlier this month, Pakistani police detained three Iranian border guards after they allegedly crossed the border, and opened fire, killing one Pakistani man in a car they had been chasing.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16754827
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30 January 2012 Last updated at 07:26


Iran says it may halt oil sales to 'some countries'
Iranian oil refinery Oil exports are one of the biggest sources of revenue for Iran


The dispute between Iran and the Western economies has escalated after Tehran warned it will stop oil sales to "some countries."

Rostam Qasemi, Iran's oil minister, said the curbs will be implemented soon but did not mention specific countries.

The warning comes just days after the European Union (EU) agreed to stop importing Iranian oil from 1 July.

The US and EU have been trying to target Iran's oil exports as part of sanctions against it.

"Soon we will cut exporting oil to some countries," Mr Qasemi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

'Arm twisting'

The EU agreed to stop importing all oil from Iran on 23 January. However, the embargo is scheduled to come into place only on 1 July so that member states have enough time to find other sources of oil.


Analysts said that if Iran stopped selling oil to some EU nations on a short notice, it may create problems for the affected countries.

They said that Tehran was using this tactic in a bid to ease pressure on itself.

"I think this is a case of arm twisting. They are trying to turn around the conditions for negotiations," said Ker Chung Yang of Phillip Futures.

Mr Ker noted that despite all the rhetoric, the threat was unlikely to have any significant impact.

"I don't think this is going to work as they have a history of not following up on any extreme measures that they warn against."

Iran's parliament postponed a debate on a proposed law seeking ban of all oil exports to the European Union.
'Its own market'

Oil exports are one of the biggest sources of income for Iran. The US and EU have been trying to curb those in a bid to force Iran to agree to stop its nuclear programme.

The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran's oil exports. However, Iran's oil minister said that a cut in exports to the region will not hurt Tehran.

"Iranian oil has its own market, even if we cut our exports to Europe," Mr Qasemi said.

The biggest market for Iran's exports is Asia, with China, India, Japan and South Korea currently the biggest buyers of oil. The US has been trying to convince these nations to side with it, but so far Japan is the only country that has openly voiced its support.

Meanwhile, India has made it clear that it is not looking to reduce its supplies just yet.

"It is not possible for India to take any decision to reduce the imports from Iran drastically, because among the countries which can provide the requirement of the emerging economies, Iran is an important country amongst them," India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters during a visit to the United States.

China, the biggest buyer of Iranian oil, is also unlikely to cut supplies, given the country's growing demand for energy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16783873
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31 January 2012 Last updated at 11:38


Iran launches TV channel in Spanish

President Ahmadinejad with Raul Castro in Cuba (12 Jan 2012) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) has developed close ties with leaders including Cuba's Raul Castro (C)

Iran has launched an international-facing Spanish language TV channel.

Iran's Fars news agency said that Hispan TV has now officially started broadcasting 24 hours a day.

The Tehran government, which already runs the English-language Press TV, has accused other international media outlets of biased reporting.

Iran has allies in Latin America and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has recently returned from a tour of Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

Speaking at Hispan TV's launch, Mr Ahmadinejad said he hoped that the channel would become a public discussion forum.

In an address broadcast on Press TV, he said that he hoped the channel "would act as a rendez-vous so that all the justice-seekers and freedom-seekers and all the independent nations and thinkers and scholars and artists... would have the opportunity to engage in dialogue".

He concluded his speech in Spanish, saying "Viva Espana, viva America Latina", and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sent a message hailing the launch, according to AFP.

The United States has warned Latin American countries against closer relationships with Iran.

In December President Obama said that Venezuela had not benefited from its ties with Tehran. Venezuela, for its part, has spoken out against US sanctions on Iran, calling the moves "imperialist aggression".

In addition to Press TV and Hispan TV, Iran finances an Arabic language channel, al-Alam.

Regulators in the UK have revoked Press TV's broadcasting licence, saying the outlet breached rules on editorial control.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16809053
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31 January 2012 Last updated at 19:42


Iran says nuclear talks with IAEA 'constructive'


Iran says it has ended three days of "positive and constructive" talks with UN nuclear inspectors.

The semi-official Fars news agency said the two sides had agreed to continue talks, but the report did not specify when the next meeting would happen.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has so far not commented.

The IAEA inspectors'' visit to Iran comes at a time of heightened tension between the Tehran government and the West over the country's nuclear programme.

The US and its allies suspect Iran's uranium enrichment work has military aims but Tehran insists it is for electricity generation.

"Talks between Iran and the visiting team of inspectors... were held in a positive and constructive atmosphere," Fars said.

"The two sides agreed to continue the talks."

An unnamed official quoted by Iran's state-run Arabic language TV channel al-Alam said "technical and legal issues were discussed", adding that the inspectors had not visited any nuclear sites.

A protest against the visit by some hard-line Iranian students took place outside the country's Atomic Energy Organisation, ISNA news agency reported.

Before the trip, the head of the IAEA team, Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, said they hoped to "resolve all the outstanding issues with Iran" over its nuclear programme.

"In particular we hope that Iran will engage with us on our concerns regarding the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," he said.

The inspectors will now take Iran's answers back to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

The BBC's James Reynolds says their evaluation may be included in the next written report on Iran's nuclear programme expected in the next month.

The IAEA said last November it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Since then the US and the European Union have imposed a series of sanctions against Iran, including measures targeting the country's lucrative oil industry.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16821214
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1 February 2012 Last updated at 17:36


Iran nuclear crisis: UN inspectors have 'good' talks
Herman Nackaerts Mr Nackaerts led a team that had three days of talks in Iran, but did not visit nuclear sites


UN nuclear inspectors back from a trip to Iran to discuss its contested nuclear programme have said the country is "committed" to "resolving all outstanding issues".

The International Atomic Energy Agency said another visit to Tehran was planned for later this month.

Inspectors described their visit as positive but said there was still work to do.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment work is peaceful in purpose.

The IAEA's Deputy Director-General Herman Nackaerts said his organisation and the Iranians were both determined to address all outstanding matters.

"But of course there is still a lot of work to be done and so we have planned another trip in the very near future," he told reporters as he landed in Vienna, the organisation's headquarters.

'Intensifying dialogue'

In a statement, the organisation said a follow-up visit to Tehran was planned for 21 and 22 February 2012.

It said its priority remained "the clarification of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme".

The IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said the agency was "committed to intensifying dialogue".

A few days ago, Iran described its three days of talks with the IAEA inspectors as "positive and constructive". According to state media the IAEA team did not inspect any nuclear sites.

The inspectors' evaluation of their visit may form part of the next written report on Iran's nuclear programme, expected later in February.

Tehran says its nuclear activities are simply for electricity generation.

But last November, the IAEA said it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Since then, the US and the European Union have imposed a series of sanctions against Iran, including measures targeting the country's lucrative oil industry.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16831619
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3 February 2012 Last updated at 18:00


Iran accused of intimidating BBC Persian staff


The BBC's director general has accused the Iranian authorities of intimidating those working for its Persian service.

Mark Thompson wrote in a blog that the BBC had seen "disturbing new tactics", including the targeting of family members of those working outside Iran.

Last week, the sister of a BBC Persian staff member was detained and held in solitary confinement at a Tehran jail.

Iran accused the BBC of inciting unrest after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

BBC Persian broadcast online videos and interviewed protesters, who described deaths, injuries and arbitrary arrests carried out by security forces.

'Long arm of repression'

In his blog, Mr Thompson wrote that for BBC Persian staff, "interference and harassment from the Iranian authorities has become a challenging fact of life".

"In recent months, we have witnessed increased levels of intimidation alongside disturbing new tactics," he added.

"This includes an attempt to put pressure on those who work for BBC Persian outside Iran, by targeting family members who still live inside the country."


Mr Thompson revealed that last week the sister of a BBC Persian member of staff was arrested and held in solitary confinement on unspecified charges at Evin Prison in the capital, Tehran.

"Although she has now been released on bail, her treatment was utterly deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms."

Human Rights Watch said that at one point, a man claiming to be the relative's interrogator at Evin telephoned the staff member in London and offered to release her in return for information about the BBC.

Mr Thompson said staff had also faced false accusations of sexual assault, drug trafficking and financial crimes.

In recent months, a number of relatives of BBC Persian staff had been detained for short periods of time by the Iranian authorities and urged to get their relatives in London to either stop working for the BBC, or to "co-operate" with Iranian intelligence officials, Mr Thompson said.

In other instances, passports of family members have been confiscated, preventing them from leaving Iran, he added.

"This has left many BBC Persian staff too afraid to return to the country, even to visit sick or elderly relatives."

He said some had also had their Facebook and email accounts hacked, and been subjected to a "consistent stream of false and slanderous accusations... in the official Iranian media, ranging from allegations of serious sexual assault, drug trafficking, and criminal financial behaviour".

Some reports claimed they had converted from Islam to Christianity or Bahai faith - potentially a capital offence in Iran as it is considered to be apostasy.

Human Rights Watch's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said the actions of the Iranian authorities suggested they were attempting to silence reporters and the BBC, and were sending "a message that the government's long arm of repression can extend well beyond borders".

UK Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said Iranian officials' "deplorable tactics illustrate again the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, and the desperation of the Iranian regime to silence any independent voices".

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16874177
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2 February 2012 Last updated at 05:03


Iranians feel sanctions bite


As the European Union introduces a ban on crude oil imports from Iran and tightens sanctions on the country's banks, BBC Persian has been talking to Iranians at home and abroad about the impact on their lives, as Mehrzad Kohanrouz reports.

Fereydoun is a 40-year-old from Karaj, south-west of the capital Tehran. He has just been made redundant after 15 years with the state-owned carmaker, Iran Khodro.

"I used to have a job assembling Mercedes-Benz cars," says Fereydoun, "but now, because of the sanctions, Daimler has cut its ties with Iran and as a consequence I lost my job. I'm self employed now but I'm struggling to put food on the table."

Fereydoun is one of many Iranians now facing hard times as the sanctions against Iran's already struggling economy begin to bite.

He says he knows he is lucky to at least have a temporary job.

Unemployment is soaring in Iran, especially among the younger generation. The official rate is 14%. But, unofficially, it is much higher.

Growing numbers of Iranians now have no steady source of income. It is a grim prospect at a time when the cost of living is soaring.

Debts

Pirouz, a university professor in Tehran, says he is finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet.

"I live alone," he says. "I used to spend about $300 every month on living expenses, but now I am paying more than $650."
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits an industrial site in Kerman province, Iran (26 January 2012) Iran's leaders remains defiant, despite the impact of sanctions on their country's industry

Rising prices have been compounded by recent economic reforms, which saw state subsidies on petrol and utilities being phased out.

Like most Iranians, Pirouz receives a monthly payment of $30 from the state to help cope with the new higher prices, but he says that it is simply not enough.

For people in business the sanctions are definitely making life much more difficult.

"The sanctions mean that it is impossible to transfer foreign currency," says Ravan, a businessman from Tehran. "My business has been left with a huge load of debt. Thousands of people in my position have gone bust."

"In the past few weeks, the prices of goods in my sector have been changing on a daily basis," says Sharouz, who imports camera systems for automatic doors in shops and offices.

"I agree a price today, but by the time I go to sign the contract the following day the price has already gone up and yesterday's deal has been cancelled."

Foreign exchange restrictions

In an article for the popular Khabar website, political analyst Mohammad Irani recently lambasted the government for its failure to address the problem.
Iranians queue to use the cashpoint in Tehran on 23 January 2012 The latest sanctions appear more likely to hit ordinary Iranians than the country's elite

"If you complain, all you hear is: 'Don't you live in this country? You should know it's because of the sanctions'," he wrote. "But if you want to overcome a crisis or challenge you've got to admit that it exists, and not just dismiss it."

The growing feeling of crisis has seen many Iranians rushing to convert their savings into dollars. As a result Iran's currency, the rial, has plunged to record lows in the past couple of weeks.

"I don't know how I can cope," Saeed, a student, wrote in an email. "The rate for foreign currency is rising by the hour."

In response, the government has ordered exchange bureaux to stop selling dollars, unofficial street dealers have been threatened with arrest and prosecution and the central bank has warned that anyone carrying foreign currency must provide a bank receipt or risk being arrested.

In another sign of just how seriously the government is taking the situation, Iranians recently found that not only had the authorities blocked access to financial websites showing real-time exchange rates, but it was no longer possible even to use keywords like "dollar".
'Poor husbands'

Gold prices have also rocketed in Iran as people have put their savings into gold coins.

An Iranian goldsmith counts his gold coins at a gold market in Tehran (26 January 2012) The price of gold has risen dramatically as people seek to protect their savings

The price of a gold coin - the way the gold price is measured in Iran - now stands at $500, more than double what it was a couple of years ago.

The price of gold coins is particularly significant in Iran because when young people get married, the "mehrieh" or "bride price" - the money the husband will pay his wife if they get divorced - is usually agreed in gold coins. For a country with a high divorce rate, it is a big problem.

"I'm thinking of all those poor husbands," says Matin in an email. "How will they ever be able to pay if their wife decides to get a divorce?"

The sanctions are also having an impact on Iranians living abroad.

The BBC's James Reynolds visits Dubai where many people export goods to Iran

Ehsan, a student in Malaysia, said it was getting really difficult for his family to send money to him.

"Many people I know have given up and gone home," he says.

Nazy, who is studying in India, said her problems were being made worse by traders taking advantage of the plunging value of the rial.

"Currency exchange here is a rip-off," she complains. "The touts will get huge commission and charge as much as they wish as Iranian rial falls."

'No effect'

So how do people feel about the rights and wrongs of the sanctions? If the calls and messages to BBC Persian are an indication, then emotions are very mixed.

"These sanctions are pointless," says Hadi. "The regime's rulers have already filled their pockets with our country's money, so it won't affect them. It will just be the people of Iran who suffer."

But Mehrdad says: "There's no other option. Sometimes you have to choose between the bad and something worse. The international community has to choose between military action or intensifying the sanctions."

"The sanctions will have no effect on changing Iran's decisions about its nuclear programme," says Navid. "Iran's dependence on the West will be minimised and... it will benefit Russia and the East."

Iran oil exports

But despite the difficulties they now face, many Iranians remain convinced that one day things will get better.

Fereydoun, the former car worker from Karaj, remains upbeat.

"Things are tough and I'm unemployed as a result of sanctions, but no doubt the future is ours," he says.

"We'll withstand all the pressure so that we can turn the corner and that the next generation... can live in a strong Iran later on."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16813248
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6 February 2012 Last updated at 14:33

US and Israel working together on Iran, says Obama

Barack Obama: "We will do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon"


The US is working closely with Israel to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, President Barack Obama has said.

He told NBC he believed Israel had not yet decided how to deal with the issue, amid reports that Israel may strike Iran as early as spring.

Mr Obama said the aim was to resolve the crisis diplomatically, but added that no option was off the table.

The US and Israel suspect that Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Iran says its programmes are for peaceful purposes.

Last November, the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, said it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Since then, the US and the EU have imposed a series of sanctions against Iran, including measures targeting the country's lucrative oil industry.

'Deep alarm'

"I've been very clear - we're going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and creating a nuclear arms race in a volatile region," Mr Obama told NBC in a live interview on Sunday.

He said Washington was working "in lockstep" with Israel, which was right to be very concerned about Iran's controversial activities.

Asked if he believed the Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran, Mr Obama said: "I don't think Israel has made a decision on what they need to do."

He declined to answer directly a question whether Washington would be consulted first, saying only that the US and Israel "have closer military and intelligence consultation... than we've ever had".

However, correspondents say that behind the scenes Washington is deeply alarmed by reports that Israel may strike Iran as early as April.

Such a move could drive up tensions in the Middle East as well as oil prices, analysts says, which would threaten the global economy and Mr Obama's re-election chances.

The US president said his country had "a very good estimate" of when Iran could complete a nuclear weapon.

But knowledge of Tehran's internal decision-making was not as clear, he said.

"Do we know all of the dynamics inside of Iran? Absolutely not,'' Mr Obama said. "Iran itself is a lot more divided now than it was. Knowing who is making decisions at any given time inside of Iran is tough.''

Mr Obama also said there was no evidence that the Iranians had "intentions or capabilities" to strike US targets in retaliation.

He stressed the US was attempting to resolve the showdown diplomatically but that the country had done extensive planning on all options.

"We are prepared to exercise these options should they arise,'' Mr Obama said during the interview.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16900705
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7 February 2012 Last updated at 18:30

Iran parliament summons President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad


Iran's parliament has summoned the president for questioning for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces a long list of questions about the state of the economy, as well as his foreign and domestic policy decisions.

MPs have threatened similar action before, but failed to follow through.

The summons will be sent to Mr Ahmadinejad in the next two days. He must appear in parliament within a month according to Iran's constitution.

That means he could appear after legislative elections on 2 March - the first national elections since the disputed presidential poll in 2009.
Power struggle

Seventy-nine members of the 290-member Majlis voted on Tuesday to summon Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"There is a requirement for the president to answer questions in an open session of the parliament," said Deputy Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar in a speech broadcast on state radio.


Analysis

James Reynolds BBC Iran correspondent

Iran's president and parliament are fighting a lengthy battle for power. Now, parliament has decided to take what may be a dramatic public step.

The summons for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes at a critical moment for the country's divided conservative establishment. Parliamentary elections are set to be held at the start of next month. The ruling conservatives came together in 2009 to defeat the opposition Green Movement. But since then, conservatives have fought among themselves.

Mr Ahmadinejad and his supporters want to reduce the influence of the country's ruling clerics. But the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his allies in parliament and the powerful Revolutionary Guards have fought back.


The Fars news agency published a list of 10 questions which it said MPs would put to the president.

Although they focus on the economy - seeking explanations for perceived failures to enact legislation, tackle unemployment and pay subsidies - some delve into the rift between Mr Ahmadinejad and Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which has been widening for some time.

"What justification is there to your 11-day resistance against the verdict issued by the Revolution's leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] to reinstate Hojjat ol-Eslam [Heidar] Moslehi, the respected intelligence minister?" one asks.

Last April, Mr Ahmadinejad decided to sack Mr Moslehi, reportedly after the minister had dismissed an official with close ties to the president's chief of staff and close confidante, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei.

But Ayatollah Khamenei decided to overrule him and ordered the reinstatement of Mr Moslehi. The decision is said to have so enraged Mr Ahmadinejad that he stayed away from government meetings for 11 days.

Another question concerns his decision to dismiss former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki while he was visiting Senegal.

The president will also be asked about why his administration failed to promote the Islamic dress code that calls for women to wear the traditional veil, and to explain his ties to Mr Rahim-Mashaei, whose daughter is married to the president's son.

It is unclear what would happen under the constitution if Mr Ahmadinejad failed to appear before parliament.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16928642
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11 February 2012 Last updated at 11:03

Iran to unveil 'great nuclear achievements'

Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says "great" nuclear achievements will be announced in the next few days.

He did not give any details, but insisted that Iran would never halt its programme to enrich uranium, which can be used to make a nuclear warhead.

Mr Ahmadinejad was speaking at a rally in Tehran as Iranians marked the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

He also promised that Iran would never yield to the West if it continued to use "the language of force and insult".

Last week, President Barack Obama said the United States would work in "lockstep" with Israel to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.

He said Israel's government was "rightly" very concerned about Iran's nuclear programme but added that he did not believe it had decided whether to launch a military strike.

Tehran insists its programme is entirely peaceful.

In a speech broadcast on state television, Mr Ahmadinejad told a large crowd in Tehran's Azadi Square that "all needs of the Iranian nation" would be met by its nuclear scientists in the near future.

"God willing, the world will witness the inauguration of great achievements in the nuclear sphere in a few days," he added.

The president said Western powers were using the nuclear issue as a "pretext" to work "against the development of the Iranian nation".

"They say that they want to talk to us. We have always been ready for talks. Well, they should be within the framework of justice and respect."

"I clearly declare that if you (the West) use the language of force and insult, the Iranian nation will never yield to you," he said.

The BBC's Iran correspondent James Reynolds says the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution gave the president the chance to give a friendly crowd a bit of rousing at a relatively tough time, with the country hit by new sanctions and the economy struggling.

Demonstrators carrying Iranian flags and pictures of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to America".
File image of Iran's Uranium Conversion Facility outside city of Isfahan Iran insists its uranium enrichment programme is for entirely peaceful purposes

Talks between Iran and six world powers - the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China - on the nuclear programme collapsed a year ago and show little sign of resuming, despite recent efforts to restart them by Turkey.

Iran refuses to negotiate over its uranium enrichment programme, but Western countries say there is no point in talking unless it is on the agenda.

In November, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Since then, European Union member states have increased the economic pressure on Tehran by approving a ban on imports of Iranian crude oil.

The US does not buy Iranian oil, but it has placed sanctions on Iran's banks to make it harder for the country to sell crude.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-16995727
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