The U.S. played down Iran’s claim of a “major” nuclear breakthrough as an exaggeration to bolster nationalism amid tighter sanctions rather than a step toward developing an atomic weapon.
Iranian state-run Press TV said yesterday 3,000 “new-generation” Iranian-made centrifuges were installed at its main uranium enrichment site at Natanz, and domestically made fuel plates were loaded at a medical research reactor in Tehran. Iran won’t be intimidated by outside pressure and will pursue technological advances, the Iranian Students’ News Agency said.
“Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive,” State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington yesterday. The announcement was “hyped” for a domestic audience, she said.
The opposing assessments came as the European Union confirmed it received a letter from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, about resuming negotiations with the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the international community wants serious engagement about Iran’s program. Concern the dispute will lead to a military confrontation that disrupts oil supplies from the Persian Gulf has contributed to a 3 percent increase in crude prices during February.
Oil for March delivery rose 1.1 percent to $101.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday, the highest settlement since Jan. 10, after Press TV reported that Iran halted crude oil shipments to Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands five months before a European Union embargo takes effect July 1. Futures slipped 41 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $101.39 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange at 8:23 a.m. London time today.
“This is the kind of news that gets traders juices flowing,” Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts, said in a phone interview. “The Iran situation has gone from lukewarm to a simmer.”
The state-run Fars news agency said Iran summoned the ambassadors from the European countries to the foreign ministry to protest against the sanctions, without cutting exports.
Iran is “feeling the pressure” of “unprecedented sanctions” that U.S. and European officials say are impeding the Islamic republic’s acquisition of materials for its nuclear program and hobbling its economy, according to Nuland.