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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Obama follows Bush path on Iran


WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama yesterday extended one of the many levels of sanctions against Iran, imposed in 1995 over claims Tehran dealt in terrorism and sought weapons of mass destruction.

The sanctions, prohibiting US companies from aiding the development of the Iranian oil industry and halting trade, export/import and investment ties with Iran, were imposed by the Bill Clinton administration and have been extended on an annual basis by successive presidents. They would have expired without Obama’s formal action to extend them.

“The actions and policies of the government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and the US economy, Obama said in a message to Congress.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the US move as “childish.”

“If you (world powers) had not blocked the road, Iran would not have become a nuclear power and would not have had a presence in space,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency in Assalouyeh.

“They thought that through such childish and harassing moves they can stop a great nation’s scientific path toward perfection,” he added while inaugurating a gas refinery there.

“You take your decisions, and we do our work ... Knowingly or unknowingly, you have opened our nation’s path to progress ... You are too small to block our path,” he said.

The Iranian president described yesterday’s commissioning of Phases 9 and 10 of the South Pars field, Iran’s single biggest natural gas deposit, as a “happy gift” for the Iranian nation, which is also the world’s fourth-largest oil producer.

The investment amounted to about $4 billion, media said.

“This grand achievement happened under conditions in which some in the world with immorality and misbehavior did not fulfill their promises,” Ahmadinejad said.

“They signed contracts to provide equipment and spare parts but ... some of the equipment and spare parts remained aboard ship and were taken back,” he said, in an apparent reference to Western firms scaling down their investment plan in Iran.

The sanctions are one portion of the large range of punitive US, United Nations and international measures imposed against Iran, for various reasons, including Tehran’s alleged nuclear drive.

Washington has steadily upped sanctions against Iranian entities in hopes of pressuring Tehran to pull back on its nuclear program — which the US says is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

The United States says Iran must also halt its alleged support for groups Washington has labeled “terrorist,” including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian groups.

Obama came to power promising to offer diplomatic engagement to US foes, including Iran, to test if there might be scope for negotiated solutions to conflicts.

That was a clear shift from President George W. Bush, who rejected talks unless Iran halted uranium enrichment, the process which makes fuel for nuclear power plants but can also be used to produce the core of an atomic bomb.

In January, Obama said: “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fists, they will find an extended hand from us.”

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