China signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia to build an oil refinery [in the Kingdom] that will have a production capacity of 400,000 barrels per day. The move came after Beijing its imports of Iranian oil in half for the months of January and February. Last December, trade sources indicated that Sinopec, China's largest petroleum refiner, would purchase less than half of the usual imported quantities [of crude oil] due to disagreements over payment terms against the backdrop of the international pressure on Tehran.
The Chinese corporation [Sinopec] cut its [oil] purchases for this month [January] by 285,000 barrels per day. Chinese sources revealed that the [state-owned oil] company Zhuhai Zhenrong will also cut its imports of Iranian oil by about 120,000 barrels per day. [China and Iran] disagreed over periods of repayment. Whereas Chinese companies asked for 90 days to pay off [their purchase of Iranian oil], Iran requested payments to be made within 60 days. In spite of this, Iran has made claims that its business with oil-importing Asian countries is proceeding as usual, despite the constant [US] pressure on its customers. Still, observers predict that a crisis between Tehran and Beijing will happen soon as a result of China’s reduction of oil imports from Iran.
On another note, [a report published by] The Wall Street Journal contended that the US is “concerned” over operations conducted by the Israeli Mossad [intelligence services] to assassinate Iranian scientists. [US President] Barack Obama contacted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a day after the assassination of Iranian scientist Mustafa Roshan to rebuke him. He also informed him that the US-Israeli joint military exercises scheduled for the coming spring will be postponed due to budget [considerations], added the French newspaper Le Figaro.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, Mossad agents had posed as CIA operatives to recruit fighters from the Pakistani [militant Islamist group] Jundallah [Soldiers of God]. The Bush administration discovered [the operation] in 2007-2008, but did not conduct an investigation. Obama, however, brought up the issue after taking office, imposing strict restrictions on cooperating with the Mossad.
Observers have expressed surprise at the White House’s sudden condemnations following the assassination of Mustafa Roshan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has denied any US involvement in the assassination, while Tehran insists on leveling accusations against the US, Israeli and even British intelligence. Iran's Minister of Intelligence, Heydar Moslehi, made reference to the “US and British support the Zionist Mossad receives.” But facts indicate the Mossad acted alone in assassinating the Iranian scientist - the fifth [to be killed in recent years]. This is probably the reason behind the US’ sudden condemnation [of the assassination].
Yesterday, the head of the Iranian Shura Council, Ali Larijani, told the Al-Alam TV channel that a number of persons were arrested in connection with the investigation into Roshan’s assassination, claiming that ''evidence has been found.” Larijani added: ''We will not hesitate to punish the Zionist regime so that it realizes that such operations will have clear responses.”
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told The Guardian that military action against Iran is unlikely, saying he prefers “the imposition of tough sanctions on Tehran.” [For his part], Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has said that Iran, which has warned Gulf states against [boosting production of oil] to compensate [Gulf] shares, is ''seeking to control the Gulf States.” [Liberman] ruled out the scenario of war.