by Yamei Wang
BEIJING, Jan. 20 (Xinhuanet) -- Following an International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran's nuclear program in November, the United States, Britain and Canada announced new sanctions against Tehran and are working to impose an embargo on Iran's crude exports.
In the report, the IAEA said "credible" evidence showed the Islamic Republic had been seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. But Tehran rejected the report and insisted its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed on Dec. 30, 2011 a wide-ranging defense funding bill in Honolulu, Hawaii, calling for new sanctions against financial institutions doing business with Iran's state banking institutions.
According to an amendment contained in the sweeping bill, foreign financial institutions doing business with Iran's central bank are banned from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States.
The ban only applies to foreign central banks for transactions that involve the sale or purchase of petroleum or petroleum products. The penalties do not go into effect for six months, according to the bill.
However, Obama can waive the penalties for national security reasons.
The followings are mixed reactions to new round of sanctions on Iran.
Caution should be called for in metering out sanctions in international affairs, said China's Permanent Representative to the UN Li Baodong Thursday when addressing a Security Council open debate on the question of justice and rule of law.
"Sanctions should be only carried out on basis of facts and evidence. Double standards must be avoided. Impacts against civilian lives and social economic development must be minimized," Li said.
China on Thursday voiced concern over rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, saying the situation could pose problems for the resolution of Iran's nuclear issue.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said some Western nations have recently tightened unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has escalated tensions between these countries and Iran.
China believes that differences between countries should be dealt with through dialogues and negotiation, he said.
He noted that sanctions, pressure and military threats cannot resolve problems, but may only worsen the situation.
"We hope relevant parties will remain calm, rational and restrained, and jointly safeguard the peace and stability of the Gulf," Liu said.
The European Union (EU) has not decided on further sanctions against Iran, an EU spokesman told Xinhua on Jan. 12, 2012.
Michael Mann, spokesman of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, denied earlier reports that the EU would postpone oil import ban against Iran for six months and the petrochemical product ban for three months, because the EU needs to receive repayments in oil for debts currently owed by Iranian firms.
"There is no truth in any of this. It's nonsense," Mann told Xinhua over the phone. "Nothing has been decided yet. You can't postpone something that hasn't even been agreed yet."
"There are all sorts of things still being debated, such as when things will come into force and so forth. So it's impossible to talk about things being delayed. That's simply not true," he said.
Mann said they would have "a new package of sanctions to agree on" by Jan. 23 when EU foreign ministers meet.
EU foreign ministers will discuss further sanctions and a possible oil embargo against Iran at a meeting on Jan. 23 in Brussels, in an effort to put pressure on the country for its nuclear program.
Some southern European countries import significant quantities of oil from Iran, and it is believed that an EU-wide embargo on Iranian oil would hurt these economies further, at a time when they are already suffering from entrenched sovereign debt problems.
Iran exports some 2.6 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), among which 500,000 bpd goes to the EU. Greece, Italy and Spain respectively import about 25 percent, 13 percent and 10 percent of their oil from Iran.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Jan. 3, 2012 asked the European community to impose further tough sanctions against Iran after its recent threat to block the strategic oil passage of Strait of Hormuz.
"France wants that we toughen sanctions (against Iran)... (by) freezing .. assets of the Iranian central bank, which would be a very rough and imposing embargo on Iranian oil exports," the minister told local TV channel I-TELE.
"The U.S. congress voted to that effect and the President of the United States has just approved the law. We hope that the Europeans, by Jan. 30, take an equivalent measure to show our determination," he added.
Japan said it will seek to lower its reliance on Iranian oil, but has asked the United States to take into account the adverse affects of last year's twin disasters in March on the nation's economy.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba have both voiced concern about the possible negative impact joining the U.S.-led sanctions on Tehran could have on Japan's economy, especially in light of the increased oil needed to fuel power stations as most of the country's nuclear plants are still offline following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami-triggered crisis.
Japan's Finance Minister Jun Azumi reaffirmed on Wednesday that the country intended to further decrease its crude oil imports from Iran but he was also cautious about the impact of sanctions on the oil-rich country.
"Our fundamental view is that in the future we will move in the direction of further decreasing Iranian oil imports," Azumi said at a briefing at Tokyo's Foreign Correspondents Club.
But the finance minister said all this should be done in phases and the discussion should be carried out. He was also concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran, believing the move, if implemented in a quick way, would bring huge damages to Japanese banks.
Japan imported 312,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil in the first 11 months of 2011, 12.3 percent less than in the same period a year earlier, according to trade ministry data. The figure is down by more than half from the 683,000 barrels per day Japan imported in 2003, the data showed.
India has said it will continue buying Iranian oil despite the United States sanctions imposed on Tehran, according to local media on Jan. 18, 2012.
"We have accepted sanctions which are made by the United Nations. Other sanctions do not apply to individual countries," Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told local media on Jan. 18, 2012. "We continue to buy oil from Iran."
India imports around 12 percent of its oil from Iran.
India defended Tehran's right to develop its civil nuclear energy program but made it clear that it should be within the parameters set out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Russia opposes any military strikes or unilateral sanctions against Iran, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.
"I don't even want to make any guesses as to when a military conflict (in Iran) might happen because we are doing all we can to prevent it. The consequence might be very serious," Lavrov told reporters.
He said Moscow opposes fresh sanctions against Iran, adding that the move will not help facilitate the nuclear non-proliferation regime, but cripple the country's economy and trigger popular discontent.
"These (sanctions) seriously seek to suffocate Iran's economy and worsen the living conditions of Iran's population, probably, in the hope of stirring up discontent," he said.
Lavrov urged the West to concentrate on talks with Tehran instead of sanctions or military strikes against Iran.
The Turkish government seeks to increase trade volume with Iran to 30 billion U.S. dollars in 2015, a move to boost ties with the Islamic republic despite the new round of Western sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program, the Turkish environment and urban planning minister said Thursday.
"Iran and Turkey's relations saw a 70 percent rise in 2011 and I hope that new steps will be taken within the framework of the joint commission to help increase the trade volume to 30 billion U. S. dollars in 2015," Erdogan Bayraktar said at a joint economic meeting held in Ankara.
Turkey pledged not to comply with the new U.S. sanctions targeting the Iranian oil industry and calling for sanctions against financial institutions doing business with Iran's state banking institutions, saying Ankara is only bound by the UN sanctions.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Jan. 12 that Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation (Tupras), the biggest crude oil importer of the country, is continuing its imports from Iran, adding that "as of today there has been no change on our roadmap."
Turkey is willing to host a new round of talks between Iran and world's major countries over its nuclear program, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.