By CNN's Ivan Watson in Istanbul
Iran and six world powers held "constructive and useful" talks Saturday in Turkey as international diplomats seek to persuade Tehran to rein in its nuclear program.
"We have agreed that the nonproliferation treaty forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement to ensure all the obligations under the treaty are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran's right for the peaceful use of nuclear energy," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said following the meeting with Iran's top negotiator, Saeed Jalili, in Istanbul.
Jalili had said ahead of the talks that he intended to bring "new initiatives" to the table.
Ashton said Saturday's meeting was a basis to establish a "sustained process of serious dialogue."
By Adam Levine
Eleven countries, including Japan and European nations, have significantly reduced their Iran oil purchases and should not be subject to new U.S. sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress Tuesday.
The countries are Japan, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom, according to a State Department statement. FULL POST
By Elise Labott
The United States and European Union Friday expressed cautious optimism that Iran is serious about returning to nuclear talks with world powers.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they were weighing Iran offer to talk as soon as possible with the so-called P5 plus one group of nations..
In a letter to Ashton sent Tuesday, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili voiced Iranian's willingness for resuming talks in a letter to the Ashton.
We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues, which can provide ground for constructive and forward-looking cooperation," Jalili wrote.
By Elise Labott
Iran is offering to resume talks over the country's nuclear program as soon as possible, according to a letter the nation's nuclear negotiator sent to the European Union.
"We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues, which can provide ground for constructive and forward-looking cooperation," Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili wrote in a letter to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
CNN obtained a copy of the translated letter as Iran announced new steps in its nuclear program.
Read the whole story here
The European Union and the United States added to the growing list of sanctions meant to pressure Iran into rethinking its nuclear program. On Monday, the E.U. agreed to cut off oil imports and freeze assets in an effort to starve Iran of funding for its nuclear program.
Soon after the E.U. made its announcement, the U.S. announced it was adding Iran's third largest bank to the banned list, accusing it of providing financial services to other Iranian banks and firms already sanctioned. The move against Bank Tejarat chokes off one of Iran’s last access points to the intl financial system, our Elise Labott reports.
The sanctions come after the U.S., Britain and France sent naval vessels across the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf this weekend. Iran will get some attention Tuesday night, as well. Expect tough language on Iran from President Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, democratic sources tell Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin.
The U.S. has sanctioned 22 Iranian-linked banks, including all of the state-owned banks, according to the Treasury Department.
The history of U.S. sanctions against Iran dates as far back as 1979, when hostages were held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Over the years, the U.S. government has approved other sanctions. In 2010, amid increasing tensions of Iran's nuclear program, the United States instituted sanctions that U.S. officials described as "unprecedented."
The United Nations and the European Union, and other countries around the world also have sanctions against Iran.
Click here to read more from Josh Levs about the key steps in the efforts to sanction Iran.
Fareed Zakaria GPS's page looks at why the EU efforts take a real bite out of Iranian oil exports.
By CNN National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo
The United States will withdraw two Army combat brigades from Europe in one of the first announcements of actual asset reductions as part of an effort to cut more than $400 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years.
Reductions in troop levels in Europe had been expected after President Obama unveiled the Pentagon's new defense strategy this month that promised a leaner, cheaper military with a greater focus on the Pacific. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the announcement about the withdrawal Thursday in an interview with the Defense Department press service.
About 80,000 troops are stationed in Europe - about 37,000 of which are with the U.S. Army. Four Army brigades are currently stationed in the region - three in Germany and one in Italy. One brigade is typically made up of 3,500 soldiers.
No announcements have been made on which brigades will be withdrawn and when the withdrawal will begin.
By Elise Labott
It appears the international community will usher in the new year with new pressure points in the campaign against Iran's developing nuclear program.
Both the United States and the European Union are considering going after Iran's oil profits, which account for more than half of the regime's revenue, diplomats and U.S. officials said. Profits from Iranian crude, U.S. officials and diplomats say, have offset the pain of increased American and European sanctions on Iran's financial sector and are the one thing still allowing Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions.
The challenge, they say, is how to go after Iran's oil without causing a spike in worldwide oil prices.
The main target in the approach is Iran's Central Bank, which countries must deal with to buy petroleum. On Capitol Hill, Congress is pushing legislation that would prevent foreign financial institutions that do business with the Iranian Central Bank in Tehran from operating in or doing business with the United States.
At first, the Obama administration balked at the bill, concerned the measures could drive up oil prices and wreak havoc on jittery world markets. Officials were also mindful the move could backfire by increasing the value of Iranian oil sales, boosting the regime's coffers and allowing it to continue funding its nuclear program.
But the administration may now be willing to play ball, administration officials tell CNN, after adjustments were made to the legislation to provide President Obama with greater flexibility in implementing the law. FULL POST
The Obama administration could consider supporting further action targeting Iran's central bank, officials from the U.S. State Department and Treasury told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. However, as Barbara Starr reports, the officials cautioned about the risk of doing so.
The discussion comes as the European Union moved to impose new sanctions on Iran after the attack this week on British embassy buildings.
The U.S. Senate could vote as soon as Thursday on a bill by Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois that would cut off Iran from global finance by freezing U.S.-assets of any institution that does business with Iran's central bank.
The Obama administration opposes the measure because of its possible impact on the oil supply and, ultimately, the U.S. and international economy.
"There is absolutely a risk that in fact the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would in fact have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less," said Wendy Sherman, the State Department's undersecretary for political affairs.
Sherman said that the administration does agree with the "impulse, the sentiment, the objective, which is really to go at the jugular of Iran's economy."
By Sr. State Department Producer Elise Labott reporting from the UN General Assembly
The international community is working on a package of initiatives to avoid a diplomatic showdown over Palestinian statehood at the U.N. Security Council this week.
While there are a number of ideas in play, senior U.S., European, Israeli and Palestinian officials have told CNN they center around Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a letter to the Security Council seeking full Palestinian statehood, but not forcing a Council vote.
The Security Council letter would be paired with a statement by the Mideast Quartet laying out the terms of reference to re-launch peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, the officials said. The quartet is made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Monday night in an effort to get Russian to buy into the plan.
Quartet envoys will meet for a third day Tuesday afternoon to work on the text. The core elements include a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps, recognition of two states for two peoples - the Palestinians and the Jewish people - and a time line for a peace deal, diplomats said.
The officials said a package deal could enable Abbas to claim victory by going to the Security Council, but would not force a confrontation with the United States, which has promised to veto any statehood resolution which comes before the Council. FULL POST