TEHRAN — Iran warned U.S. ally Saudi Arabia today to rethink plans to compensate for Iranian oil exports cut because of sanctions. The rogue nation also boosted security for its targeted nuclear workers as it dug in under its showdown with the West.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Riyadh to "reflect" on a vow to open its oil taps to make up for an imposed reduction in Iran's oil sales.
Such a position is "not friendly," he said.
At the same time, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered security stepped up for all of Iran's nuclear workers following the assassination last week of a key scientist, First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said.
The moves signaled a hardening of Iran's stance as it confronted intense pressure over its controversial nuclear program through Western sanctions impacting its economy, and a covert campaign including murder and sabotage.
The Islamic republic has started new uranium enrichment operations at a heavily defended bunker southwest of Tehran, and it is preparing to hold more navy war games in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, a strategic chokepoint for much of the Middle East's oil.
The tensions have raised the specter of possible military action.
Speculation has increased of Israeli airstrikes against Iranian nuclear sites, and Washington has deployed warships near the Strait of Hormuz to ensure that the channel stays open.
Gestures to defuse the tensions have made little progress.
Iran says it now is willing to restart talks with world powers on its nuclear activities that collapsed a year ago, but it has not formally responded to a EU letter offering a resumption of the negotiations.
In recent days, U.S. government officials sent a letter to Iran's leaders, with whom they have had no direct contact in more than three decades.
But the ISNA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying said it contained "nothing new.”
Iran would reply only "if it's deemed necessary,” his spokesman said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is planning on sending a high-level delegation to Iran within weeks to discuss suspicions over the nuclear activities. Western diplomats at IAEA headquarters said the visit is expected to occur on Jan. 28.
But Iran's foreign ministry said that no date has been fixed and that it would take place "in the near future.”
Relations between the West and Iran, long dogged by mutual mistrust, have sunk to a dangerous low in the past three months because of a succession of developments.
They include: U.S. allegations of an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington; the storming of the British embassy in Tehran by a pro-regime mob; Iran's capture of a CIA drone; and Iranian threats against the U.S. Navy in the Gulf.
Other complications this month have come in the form of a death sentence against an American-Iranian former Marine arrested in Tehran on suspicion of spying for the CIA, and a dramatic decline in the value of Iran's currency following new U.S. sanctions.
There is potential for further degradation, however.
The European Union is poised to announce additional sanctions next week said to include a ban on Iranian oil imports. That would be a bad blow for Iran as the EU is the second-biggest destination for its oil after China.
The United States is also intent on putting teeth into its new sanctions, dispatching officials to several countries to convince them to cut Iranian oil imports despite the fragility of the global economy.
Pre-election rhetoric in three key countries — Iran, the United States and France — also is limiting leaders' ability to soften their respective positions as the showdown rumbles on.
© AFP 2013