Clinton: Iran sanctions months away

Comes after PM gets strong backing on energy penalties from visiting Sen. Kerry.

March 2, 2010 03:11
Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Hillary Clinton 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The United States is working "expeditiously and thoroughly" to win new international penalties on Iran over its disputed nuclear program, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday night.

Clinton told reporters traveling with her in South America that a new sanctions resolution is likely to come before the United Nations Security Council sometime in the next several months.

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That's far later than the United States once hoped for, in part because of reluctance among some other members of the Security Council.

Clinton is recruiting support for the Iran penalties. She said she would make sure that the president of Brazil, which has close ties to Iran, knows the extent of world alarm over Iran's activities.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who for the last two weeks has loudly been calling for sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, received strong backing when visiting US Sen. John Kerry supported the move.

Kerry, the powerful head of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said he “absolutely” supported sanctions against Iran’s energy industry.

“I believe that the most biting and important sanctions would be those on the energy side,” Kerry told a press conference, after meeting Netanyahu.

The senator said there were other sanctions that should be considered, such as financial ones, but he thought that those against the energy sector were “of particular importance.”

In the past two weeks, Netanyahu has been continuously calling for sanctions against Iran’s export of oil and import of refined petroleum products, saying that anything less would be ineffective. Up until Kerry’s comments, the prime minister’s call had not been echoed by anyone.

Last week, Russia said it opposed paralyzing sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, and although Clinton called for “crippling sanctions” a few weeks ago, this has never defined.

Kerry said there was “no one in the US Congress not deeply concerned about the steps Iran is taking, not just with respect to the nuclear enrichment program, but also with respect to its relationship with other countries in the region.

“We are deeply concerned and talks are ongoing with allies, the Quartet, China and obviously at the UN, to press forward with sanctions if there is not a change in behavior.”

Kerry said those sanctions should be “rigorous, biting, real, multilateral and need to be imposed with the intent of allowing the Iranians to begin to understand what its choices are.”

Kerry said that Teheran would make a “great mistake if they shortchange, misunderstand or misinterpret the full intent of this administration or Congress to hold their behavior accountable.”

The senator said that while a nuclear Iran poses a direct threat to Israel and the region, the issue is much larger than that.

“All of us who want a world with less nuclear threat know one thing for certain: the road to that safer world does not lead through a nuclear Teheran,” he said.

Kerry said that if the UN does not approve sanctions, the US and “a number of powerful allies will move on their own.”

Asked by xxThe Jerusalem Post whether he was concerned Israel would take unilateral actions or whether he had relayed that concern to the prime minister, Kerry said Israel and the US were “talking from the same page.

“I think he is very tuned in to not being rash, or jumping the gun here, or doing something that doesn’t give these other opportunities [to stop Iran’s nuclear development] a chance,” Kerry said of Netanyahu.

Referring to a parade of visits by high-ranking US officials to Jerusalem in recent weeks,  which will culminate next week with the scheduled arrival of US Vice President Joe Biden, Kerry said one of the reasons for the quantity of the dialogue “is to make sure we are all on the same page, that we are all clear about what time frames may exist, or may not exist, what threat levels may be real or not real, or what options may be on the table for us. I think we are on the same page.”

Kerry said he found Netanyahu “tremendously supportive of the initiatives we are taking right now, and that other countries are taking, and very hopeful they will have an impact. I think he is very much speaking from the same page as the rest of us.”

On other issues, Kerry said he hoped the present tension in the West Bank over the inclusion of Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in a list of heritage sites to be preserved was just a “rough moment, a hiccup” that could be overcome on the way to renewing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Kerry said that access to the sites – which he said were important to Jewish and Muslim understanding of their “history, culture and religions” – was shared.

Saying that he thought what Netanyahu did in placing the tombs on the list of heritage sites was “understandable” within the context of trying to “preserve and renew” the Jewish components of the sites, Kerry added that “the timing and manner of the announcement needs to be taken into account in the future context of trying to move people to dialogue.”

Kerry said that the move “certainly lends itself to misinterpretation without adequate explanation, and I think there is an explanation, and I think you have to be careful with these things. My caution as we go forward is we have to be thoughtful about everything we say and do, so that we keep a dialogue on track.”

Regarding that dialogue, Kerry, after meeting Netanyahu on Monday and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday in Amman, said he was “convinced that there is a willingness in both governments to try to move forward in respect to dialogue.”

Kerry said that he was hopeful that over the next weeks and months “the process can reach a critical point where it is possible for our administration in Washington and the government here to announce something positive.”

He gave no details or timetable.

Meanwhile, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement Monday calling the decision to include Rachel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the list of heritage sites as “detrimental to attempts to re-launch peace negotiations.

“The European Union calls on Israel to refrain from provocative acts. The European Union recognizes the importance of these religious sites to all three Abrahamic faiths and supports the principle of access for all.”

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