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As the nuclear standoff pitting Iran against the West continues, some conspiracy theorists are more focused on another plan that the Middle Eastern nation is pursuing. But they are jumping the gun if they still figure Iran is within days of launching a new international oil exchange that would sell its own and other Middle Eastern oil producers’ black gold in euros rather than U.S. dollars, and which, the theory goes, could ultimately torpedo the greenback and the U.S. economy. Despite repeated reports over the past 18 months or so that the planned bourse would finally open for business on March 20, 2006 -- and go head to head with the New York Mercantile Exchange and the ICE Futures Exchange in London -- the start date has been postponed by at least several months and maybe more than a year.
“In the middle of 2006, we are able to start the bourse,” Mohammad Asemipur, special adviser on the project to Iran’s Oil Minister, said when reached in Tehran. The plan is to trade petrochemical products first, with a crude oil contract coming last, a rollout that likely will take three years, he said. “Oh, crikey, it’s at a much earlier stage than people would think,” said British consultant Chris Cook, who claims credit for coming up with the idea for the exchange in the first place and is a member of the consortium headed by the Tehran Stock Exchange that is charged with bringing the project to life. “You can rest assured, there will not be a crude oil contract, Gulf-based, in my opinion, within a year -- and that would be really pushing it,” Mr. Cook, a former director of ICE’s predecessor, the International Petroleum Exchange, said when reached in Scotland. The electronic exchange is to be located on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, an Iranian duty- and tax-free zone.
The United States is willing to talk to the Iranian government about the situation in Iraq but not about Iran's nuclear program, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
During a March 17 joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard during her visit to Sydney, Rice was asked about the recent offer for talks extended by Ali Ardasshir Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, and one of two representatives for the Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of Iran.
Rice noted that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, "has had for some time guidance which allows him the discretion to meet with his Iranian counterpart if he believes that it would be useful to do so." But she cautioned: "This isn't a negotiation of some kind." She stressed that if and when such talks take place, they would be limited to exchanging information about Iraq.
It’s a potentially major shift in relations between Iran and the United States: A top Iranian official said Thursday that his country would sit down with the Bush administration – and the White House accepted the invite. But the caveat? Discussions will focus only on Iraq, not the hot nuclear weapons issue.
“That’s a separate issue,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
With the Iranians suggesting the talks, some observers are wondering if the country that sometimes calls the U.S. “the Great Satan” might be willing to start negotiations over its nuclear program.
Is this a sign of potentially improving relations, or just a blip before the usual tensions return? Will Iran’s nuclear aspirations come up at all during the discussions? Mark Gasiorowski, an Iran expert at Louisiana State University, and Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux, a Middle East expert at St. Louis University, have some thoughts.