Oren; ‘Drill postponement routine, not political’

EU agrees to boycott Iranian oil, others demure

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18 Jan 2012
Oren; ‘Drill postponement routine, not political’

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren issued a statement Wednesday morning on the recent postponement of the ‘Austere Challenge 12’ air defense drill, saying "such postponements are routine and do not reflect political or strategic concerns. The United States and Israel remain committed to holding the exercise - code-named Austere Challenge 12 - the largest and most robust in their historic alliance." The statement is slightly at odds with statements issued by other Israeli as well as US officials who cited a desire to cool tensions with Iran and speculation that the drill was a cover for preparations for a military strike on the Islamic Republic’s renegade nuclear program.

Meanwhile, a different kind of war has broken out between Iran and one of its neighbors to the north. On 16 January Iranian hackers launched cyberstrikes on dozens of Azerbaijani government and commercial sites, in response to escalating tensions, and Azerbaijani hackers have responded in kind. Some of the Iranian hackers said they were acting out of anger at Azerbaijan, a predominantly Moslem country, for its robust diplomatic, military and economic relationship with Israel. The exchange is taking place at the same time as a similar cyber-battle between hackers based in Israel and Saudi Arabia, prompting some observers to note that the long simmering conflicts in the region could be slipping out of the control of governments and armies and into the private sphere.

Elsewhere, US Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman told journalists in Johannesburg on Tuesday that the world oil supply would not be catastrophically affected by sanctions on Iran.

“It's a global market, and oil is fungible and easily moved around," Poneman said. "We think that if we handle this responsibly and well, that the world will be able to satisfy its current demands without disruptions even as we try to make sure that we ramp up the pressure on Iran to comply with their non-proliferation obligations."

EU diplomats recently announced that they will implement an embargo on Iranian oil starting in July, giving companies time to phase out existing contracts.

"A deal should be finalized in the coming days" by European Union ambassadors, said one diplomat on Monday.

"We are urging all of our partners to help us, to work with us in putting pressure on the government of Iran to get it to negotiate seriously," said Robert Einhorn, US State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, during a visit to Seoul South Korea on Monday. "We are urging them to reduce their purchases of crude oil from Iran and to unwind their financial dealings with the central bank of Iran. Iran continues to defy the international community. Recently it began increasing enrichment at the Qom enrichment facility to close to 20 percent, which brings them closer to the ability to break out and acquire nuclear weapons. The situation in Iran and North Korea are related. I think progress on one helps achieve progress on another."

South Korea has blacklisted 231 Iranian firms or individuals as part of its own sanctions but has not banned the import of Iranian petrochemicals or crude oil.

Elsewhere, industrial giant India said Tuesday that for now it will continue to buy Iranian crude.

“We have accepted sanctions which were made by the United Nations. Other sanctions do not apply to individual countries," Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told a news conference. "We continue to buy oil from Iran."


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