The US Senate has passed new Iran sanctions as Israel warns against concessions during upcoming talks with Tehran in Baghdad. The UN atomic watchdog's Iran trip, meanwhile, appears to have not produced concrete results.
The United States Senate passed a new round of sanctions against Iran on Monday, ahead of a meeting in Baghdad this week between Tehran and world powers over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program.
The sanctions target dealings with the National Iranian Oil Co. and the National Iranian Tanker Co., in an attempt to close a loophole through which Tehran could have continued to sell some it its oil. Iran is the world's third largest petroleum exporter.
The bill also targets the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and requires companies that trade on the US Stock exchange to disclose any business with the Islamic Republic. Penalties on companies involved in joint energy or uranium mining ventures would also be expanded. Visas would also be denied to any person or entity supplying Iran with hardware it could use to crack down on its population.
The bill now has to be reconciled with legislation passed by the House of Representatives in December and then signed into law by President Barack Obama. Senate Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell said his party had insisted that the "Senate pass nothing less than the president's commitment that all options are on the table."
"Any comprehensive policy that seeks to end Iran's effort to acquire a nuclear weapon needs to convince the rulers in Tehran that their survival is in question," McConnell said in a release.
No signs of IAEA breakthrough
The US Senate passed the legislation while International Atomic Energy (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano held talks with Iranian leaders on Monday over inspections.
On his first visit to Iran since becoming the UN nuclear watchdog, Amano sought to convince Tehran to give the IAEA access to facilities, nuclear scientists and documents needed to check intelligence that suggests Iran is covertly developing a nuclear bomb.
Iran claims its nuclear program aims to produce electricity as well as isotopes for cancer treatment. The Islamic Republic is currently enriching uranium to 20 percent, which is far higher than what is needed for energy producing reactors, but is used in medical research.
"(Monday's) negotiations were very useful," Amano was quoted as saying by the website of Iranian state television. "We held expanded negotiations in a good atmosphere."
The UN nuclear watchdog met with the head of Iran's nuclear agency, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, and its top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Yet there was no sign that Iran had assented to any of the IAEA's demands.
Israel warns against concessions
The Security Council's five permanent members - the US, UK, France, China and Russia - as well as Germany are set to meet with Jalili in Baghdad on Wednesday. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will represent this six power coalition, called the P5+1.
The main goal of the coalition is to get Iran to stop producing higher-grade uranium with a 20 percent fissile concentration, which could potentially speed up an alleged weapons program. But Israel is reportedly concerned that the talks could end in a deal that would allow Iran to enrich some uranium.
"They do not need to make concessions to Iran," Prime Minister Netanyahu said. "They need to set clear and unequivocal demands before it."
"Iran must halt all enrichment of nuclear material," he continued. "It must remove from its territory all nuclear material that has been enriched up until now and it must dismantle the underground nuclear facility in Qom."
The nuclear talks with Iran were started last March in Istanbul, Turkey after a 15-month freeze. Those negotiations produced no results.
slk/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)