US allies in Asia and Europe voiced support for Washington’s drive to cut Iran’s oil exports, although fear of self-inflicted pain is curbing enthusiasm for an embargo that Tehran says will not halt its nuclear program.
The speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, said on Thursday that the nuclear program was also too strong to be derailed by assassinations of nuclear scientists, a day after the fourth such killing.
As a newspaper close to the clerical establishment called for retaliatory assassinations of Israeli officials, a former UN inspector said a new, almost bomb-proof plant could provide Iran enough enriched uranium for an atom bomb in just a year.
Such timetables, while Iran denies all Western charges that it even wants nuclear weapons, have added to speculation that Israel and the US could resort to a military attack on the Islamic Republic — something an aide to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said was growing more likely.
After a motorcycle hitman blew up the 32-year-old engineer during the Tehran rush hour, many Iranians directed anger over the violence and over painful economic sanctions at the Western powers, which have hoped to turn popular sentiment against an increasingly divided ruling elite.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that those behind Wednesday’s mystery killing would be punished.
Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the Kayhan newspaper, wrote: “These corrupted people are easily identifiable and readily within our reach. Assassinations of the Zionist regime’s military men and officials are very easy.”
While declining comment on allegations it carried out the bombing on Wednesday, Israel has a history of such actions and will be on the alert for possible attacks against it.
Russia’s Kremlin Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev was quoted blaming Israel, which says an Iranian bomb would threaten its existence, for pushing for war.
“There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, towards which Israel is pushing the Americans,” he told Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile, the US on Thursday imposed sanctions on China’s state-run Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, which it said was Iran’s largest supplier of refined petroleum products.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also imposed sanctions on Singapore’s Kuo Oil Pte Ltd and FAL Oil Company Ltd, an energy trader based in the United Arab Emirates, as part of what the US State Department called a broadening international effort to target Iran’s energy sector and persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
On Thursday, Japan pledged to take concrete action to cut its oil imports from Iran in response to an appeal from US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.
India faces pressure to cut crude purchases from Iran, but policymakers and industry officials have sent mixed messages on future plans, with one unnamed cabinet minister saying on Thursday the country would continue to do business with Tehran.
The EU is more sympathetic to US pressure on Iran. EU foreign ministers are expected to agree on a ban on imports of Iranian crude oil on Jan. 23.
However, even Europe, whose governments largely share the concern of Israel and Washington over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, is looking for ways to limit the pain of an embargo.