Iran Halts Oil Sales to France, Britain

Posted February 19th, 2012 at 9:00 am (UTC-5)
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Iran says it has stopped selling crude oil to France and Britain, a move seen as retaliation for a phased European Union ban on Iranian oil that has yet to take effect.

Iran’s Oil Ministry said Sunday that all exports to French and British companies have ceased and that Tehran has taken steps to deliver its crude to new customers.

The move appeared designed to preempt an EU decision to stop importing Iranian crude oil from July 1. The embargo is part of Western efforts to hurt financing for Tehran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at building atomic weapons. Iran denies this.

Also Sunday, U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilan is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem amid rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program — and reports that Israel might be preparing a military strike.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, says an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would not be “prudent.” In an interview to be broadcast Sunday, the general told CNN a military strike would be “destabilizing” and would not achieve Israel’s long-term objectives.

Donilan is the latest in a series of American officials to discuss the Iran issue with Israeli leaders.

On Saturday, Vienna-based diplomats said Iran is ready to expand its uranium enrichment program at an underground facility built inside a mountain near the city of Qom.

The diplomats – speaking on the condition they remain anonymous – say Iran is poised to install thousands of new centrifuges at its Fordo enrichment site. The new centrifuges could speed up the production of enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons if the uranium is a very high grade.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are due to visit Iran Monday.

Iranian state media reported last week that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was set to formally declare the Fordo site “fully operational.” Iran also unveiled what it said are a new generation of centrifuges at a uranium enrichment plant in the central city of Natanz.