- - Sunday, July 1, 2012

TEHRAN — As new European Union sanctions targeting Iran’s oil industry took effect Sunday, Tehran acknowledged the measures aimed at reining in its disputed nuclear program were taking a toll.

The vice president said authorities had stockpiled imported goods and hard currency to help cushion the blow to the economy.

The ban by the 27-member EU on the purchase of Iranian oil dealt the Islamic republic its second economic setback in days, following fresh U.S. sanctions that prohibit the world’s banks from completing oil transactions with Iranian banks.

Combined, the measures significantly ratchet up the pressure on an Iranian economy already squeezed by previous rounds of sanctions.

“Today, we are facing the heaviest of sanctions, and we ask people to help officials in this battle,” Vice President Mohammed Reza Rahimi was quoted as saying on state television’s website.

He said the “dastardly sanctions” might cause “occasional confusion” in the domestic market.

Iran reacted furiously when the U.S. and EU sanctions were announced, threatening to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway used to ship about one-fifth of the world’s oil. The threat roiled international oil markets.

The EU, which accounted for around 18 percent of Iran’s oil exports, said last week that all contracts for importing Iranian oil will have to be terminated from Sunday. Also, European companies no longer will be involved in insuring Iranian oil.

JAPAN

First nuclear reactor goes on since tsunami

TOKYO — Dozens of protesters shouted and danced at the gate of a nuclear power plant as it restarted Sunday, the first to go back online since Japan shut down all of its reactors for safety checks following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Ohi nuclear plant’s reactor No. 3 returned to operation despite a deep division in public opinion.

Last month, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered the restarts of reactors No. 3 and nearby No. 4, saying people’s living standards can’t be maintained without nuclear energy.

Many citizens are against a return to nuclear power because of safety fears after the Fukushima accident.

All 50 of Japan’s working reactors were gradually turned off in the wake of last year’s massive earthquake and tsunami, which sent the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant into multiple meltdowns, setting off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in the mid-1980s in Ukraine.

But worries about a power crunch over the hot summer months have been growing. Oil imports are soaring. Officials have warned about blackouts in some regions.

IRAN

Iranians to hold maneuvers with missiles

TEHRAN — Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards are planning war games this week, including drills with surface-to-surface missiles aimed at models of foreign bases, the official IRNA news agency reported Sunday.

It said the maneuvers would begin Monday in Iran’s central desert and last three days.

The report quoted Gen. Ami Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the airspace unit of the Guards. He said the message of the maneuvers to “adventurist” nations in the region and the West is that “Iran will respond to any possible evil” in a “strong and crushing” way.

He said the maneuvers also are aimed at assessing the accuracy and effectiveness of warheads and systems.

The announcement coincides with the beginning of a European Union oil embargo meant to pressure Iran over its nuclear program. The West suspects Iran wants to build nuclear weapons, and Israel has hinted at an attack if diplomatic efforts and sanctions fail to eliminate the threat.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, like power generation and cancer treatment.

ISRAEL

Israeli leaders write to Egyptian president

JERUSALEM — Israel’s president and prime minister have sent separate letters to Egypt’s new Islamist president, congratulating him on his election victory and calling for continued peace between the neighboring countries, Israeli officials said Sunday.

Israeli officials have grown jittery over the future of relations with Egypt since last year’s ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak. The election of Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has deepened those concerns. Mr. Morsi took office Saturday.

Israel’s high-profile outreach reflected the importance Israel places on its peace treaty with Egypt. The 1979 agreement, Israel’s first with an Arab country, has been a cornerstone of Israeli security policy for three decades, allowing the military to focus on more volatile fronts with Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

The letters from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres were Israel’s first official communications with Mr. Morsi since his election.

An official in Mr. Netanyahu’s office confirmed the letter emphasized the importance of maintaining the peace treaty. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter. The text was not released.

Mr. Peres, a 1994 Nobel Peace laureate, wrote in his letter: “Peace has saved the lives of countless young people in Egypt and in Israel.” His office released the text Sunday and said the letter was sent Thursday.

Mr. Morsi has pledged to respect all of Egypt’s international accords, but the Brotherhood has said adjustments to the Israel-Egypt accord may be needed.

From wire dispatches and staff reports