(Updates with comments from former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia in last two paragraphs.)
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Tension over Iran’s alleged atomic- weapons work may ease in the next month after United Nations inspectors said they would return for more talks in Tehran and Israel committed to evaluate the effect of sanctions.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are preparing for more talks over the “possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program,” the Vienna-based agency said late yesterday in a statement after a three-day visit that ended Jan. 31. The team will return to Tehran for talks on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22.
The developments indicate military tensions will ease in the months ahead, Hague-based Heinrich Matthee, who advises governments and companies on risks in the Strait of Hormuz, said today by telephone. Still, “it will be difficult to turn down the rhetoric in the next few months,” he said, citing the U.S. presidential campaign and Iran’s legislative elections in March.
Iran has threatened to shut down the strait, through which a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes. Israel says it is willing to destroy Iran’s atomic infrastructure to prevent Tehran from building a bomb. Military threats against Iran have become part of the West’s strategy to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program.
Oil dropped to the lowest in six weeks today in New York. Crude for March delivery declined $1.01, or 1 percent, to $96.60 a barrel at 9:14 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures fell as much as 1.3 percent to $96.30 a barrel, the lowest level since Dec. 20. Prices are down 2.3 percent this year.
The IAEA’s 35-member board of governors meets March 5 in the Austrian capital to discuss Iran. While the agency confirmed Iran hasn’t used its declared uranium stockpile to make weapons, inspectors said they have credible intelligence showing the country studied how to make a nuclear bomb. Iran denies the charges and says it only wants atomic power.
“While we do not advocate an Israeli military strike, we believe a more credible Israeli threat can only increase the pressure on Iran to negotiate,” retired General Charles Wald, who served the U.S. European Command, said in a written statement. Wald and former Democratic Senator Charles Robb advocated selling weapons to Israel in a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Project.
A European ban on Iranian oil imports and a freeze on Iranian central bank assets will take “months” to evaluate, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said last month. The country must be “willing to deploy its military against Iran within a year, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said yesterday.
Talks over Iran’s nuclear program have made little progress, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech in Beijing today.
‘‘We believe that in recent years discussions have not led to any significant advancement,’’ she said. ‘‘So far we do not see the transparency of Iranian nuclear plans.’’
By offering to discuss their nuclear program, the Iranians may willing to step beyond boundaries they’ve set in the past, said Robert Jordan, a partner with Baker Botts and a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Iran insisted sanctions be lifted before substantive talks began about its nuclear program at its last set of negotiations with Germany and permanent members of the Security Council in January 2011.
‘‘The rhetoric has toned down a bit, but we’ve seen that roller coaster before,” Jordan said in a Jan. 30 interview from his office in Dubai. “Often Iran appears to be offering an olive branch only for the purpose of delay. We’ll just have to see how legitimate their efforts are to try to reach an accommodation.”
--With assistance from Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv, David Lerman in Washington and Anthony DiPaola in Dubai. Editors: James Hertling, Jennifer M. Freedman
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