Officials with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency begin a second round of talks Monday with Iranian officials over the country's nuclear program, a day after Tehran cut off crude exports to British and French companies in retaliation for a new round of sanctions imposed on the regime.
The two days of talks come amid heightened tensions in the region, with Israel making clear it is pondering an attack on Tehran's nuclear infrastructure, while Iran warned it could cut off the narrow strait through which oil tankers sail in and out of the gulf.
The scheduled talks between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iranian officials are billed as an opportunity for the watchdog agency to clarify the "possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," the group said.
Iran says it is producing enriched uranium to fuel civilian power plants and has refused international demands to halt its production.
But the IAEA reported in November that it had information to suggest Iran had carried out some weapons-related research.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it is up to Iran to disprove the allegation.
"The Agency is committed to intensifying dialogue. It remains essential to make progress on substantive issues," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in statement following the first round of talks in January.
The talks in Tehran follow an announcement Sunday by Iran's oil ministry that it was halting crude exports to French and British companies, an order that followed a threat that Iran would cut oil exports to some European Union countries in retaliation for sanctions put in place last month by the EU and the United States.
"Iran has no difficulty in selling and exporting its crude oil. ... We have our own customers and have designated alternatives for our oil sales. We shall sell to new customers, who will replace French and UK companies," ministry spokesman Ali Reza Nikzad-Rahbar said in a statement.
The sanctions put in place last month are meant to force Iran to provide more information on its nuclear program by shutting off its sale of crude oil, which generates half of Iran's revenue.
Iran exports 2.2 million barrels of oil a day, 18% of which is bound for European markets, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The world consumes about 89 million barrels of oil per day.FULL STORY