Let It All Bleed Out
Iran talks failure sparks confrontation fears
VIENNA/TEHRAN (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog's latest mission to Iran failed to budge a defiant Tehran over its disputed nuclear program, sending oil prices to a nine-month high over fears of an increasing risk of confrontation with the West.
The United States criticized Iran on Wednesday over the collapse of the International Atomic Energy Agency's talks in Tehran, saying it again showed the Islamic Republic's refusal to abide by international obligations over its nuclear program.
Expressing defiance, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran's nuclear policies would not change despite mounting international pressure against what the West says are Tehran's plans to obtain nuclear bombs.
"With God's help, and without paying attention to propaganda, Iran's nuclear course should continue firmly and seriously," he said on state TV. "Pressures, sanctions and assassinations will bear no fruit. No obstacles can stop Iran's nuclear work."
A team from the Vienna-based IAEA had hoped to inspect a site at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, where the agency believes there is a facility to test explosives. But the IAEA said Iran "did not grant permission."
The failure of the two-day IAEA visit could hamper any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers - the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - as the sense grows that Tehran feels it is being backed into a corner.
The standoff has rattled oil markets. On Wednesday, London-traded benchmark Brent crude for April delivery rose for a third day - up $1.24 a barrel at $122.90, a nine-month high. U.S. crude futures for April were up 3 cents at $106.28 a barrel.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States was evaluating Iran's intentions.
"This particular action (over the IAEA mission) by Iran suggests that they have not changed their behavior when it comes to abiding by their international obligations," Carney told reporters.
Iran rejects accusations that its nuclear program is a covert bid to develop a nuclear weapons capability, saying it is seeking to produce only electricity.
As Western sanctions mount, ordinary Iranians are suffering from the effects of soaring prices and a collapsing currency. Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed over the past two years in bomb attacks that Tehran has blamed on its arch-adversary Israel.
Major oil importer Japan was in final talks with Washington on an agreement for cuts in Iranian crude oil imports that could amount to a higher-than-expected 20 percent or more a year, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
China, India and Japan, the top three buyers of Iranian oil, are all planning cuts of at least 10 percent. They buy about 45 percent of Tehran's crude exports.
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