US President Barack Obama said on Saturday leaders of the Group of Eight major
economies are committed to continuing sanctions, pressure and diplomatic
discussions with Iran, even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said a day
earlier this approach was not working.
“All of us are firmly committed to
continuing with the approach of sanctions and pressure in combination with
diplomatic discussions,” Obama told reporters at the G8 meeting at the US
presidential retreat in Camp David.
“And our hope is that we can resolve
this issue in a peaceful fashion that respects Iran’s sovereignty and its rights
in the international community, but also recognizes its responsibilities,” he
The Camp David summit came four days before the next round of Iran
talks, to be held in Baghdad. The G8 leaders “affirmed the importance of having
a uniform effort in approaching those Baghdad talks next week,” one US official
But Netanyahu was skeptical, saying on Friday in Prague, after
meeting Czech President Vaclav Klaus, that he has seen “no evidence whatsoever
that Iran is serious about stopping its nuclear weapons program.
looks as though they [the Iranians] see these talks as another opportunity to
deceive and delay, just like North Korea did for years,” Netanyahu
“They may try to go from meeting to meeting with empty promises.
They may agree to something in principle but not implement it. They may even
agree to implement something that does not materially derail their nuclear
weapons program,” he said.
“Iran is good at playing this chess game,”
Netanyahu explained. “They know that sometimes you have to sacrifice a pawn to
save the king.”
Netanyahu said the goal of the negotiations with the
Iranians needed to be clear: “Freeze all enrichment inside Iran. Remove all
enriched material and dismantle [the uranium enrichment facility near the city
of] Qom,” he said. “When this goal is achieved, I will be the first to applaud.
Until then, count me among the skeptics.”
Following the first round of
talks in Istanbul between Iran and what is know as the P5+1 – the US, Russia,
China, France, Britain and Germany – Netanyahu said Tehran was given a five-week
“freebie,” a statement that apparently irked Obama, who countered the following
day by sharply rejecting that characterization.
The leaders of the G8
seemed to raise the pressure on Iran on Saturday, signaling their readiness to
tap into emergency oil stockpiles quickly this summer if tougher new sanctions
on Tehran threaten to strain supplies.
In unusually blunt language, the
G8 put the International Energy Agency – the West’s energy adviser responsible
for coordinating reserves – on standby for action.
It was the clearest
sign yet that Obama was winning support for tapping government-held oil
stockpiles for the second time in two years.
“Looking ahead to the
likelihood of further disruptions in oil sales and the expected increased demand
over the coming months, we are monitoring the situation closely and stand ready
to call upon the International Energy Agency to take appropriate action to
ensure that the market is fully and timely supplied,” the G8 said in a
communique after its summit.
Although it made no explicit mention of oil
reserves, the message was unmistakable, analysts said.
“The word ‘likely’
signals further disruptions in oil markets don’t need to be earth-shattering to
potentially prompt action” to tap oil reserves, said Michael Levi, an energy
policy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New
Speculation has been growing that Obama would use an energy session
at the G8 to seek support to tap emergency oil reserves before a European Union
embargo of Iranian crude takes effect in July and tough new US sanctions come
into force in late June. Exports have already fallen by more than a fifth this
The meeting also showed that this month’s slump in oil prices has
not deterred Obama from moving toward tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
(SPR) again – an unprecedented second release for a US president. That could
expose him to criticism from Republicans that he is using a national security
tool to win votes this November.
Michael Froman, a senior White House
aide, told reporters that although oil prices have been declining in recent
weeks, they remain high. He said the G8 was committed to keeping global oil
markets well supplied, but did not discuss any specific trigger that would
“Referring to the IEA is a way to talk about the SPR,
without talking about the SPR,” said Levi.
Britain, France and Japan have
all signaled their readiness to press ahead with a release of reserves,
according to sources and media reports, although the head of the IEA and the
European Union’s energy chief have both recently said they see no need to
Germany too has resisted tapping stockpiles again, after last year’s
release to make up for Libya’s disruption.
The statement also made an
indirect reference to concerns that big producers – principally Saudi Arabia –
may be running short of extra capacity to boost output further, more reason to
ready emergency stocks. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi says the kingdom is
pumping around 10 million barrels per day, leaving it another 2.5 million bpd in
reserve. But some analysts fear it could not sustain output at that peak
“There have been increasing disruptions in the supply of oil to
the global market over the past several months, which pose a substantial risk to
global economic growth,” it said. “In response, major producers have increased
their output while drawing prudently on excess capacity.”
have highlighted the 80 million barrels the kingdom is storing at home and
abroad, measures meant to assure consumer nations that it can keep the world
supplied with crude without the need to tap into emergency
Tapping the reserves is not a foregone conclusion. It is unclear
whether Obama and allies would opt to wait and see if Iran’s exports fall and
prices spike, or move preemptively to head off a speculative panic that could
drive US gasoline quickly above $4 a gallon.
US crude oil has tumbled 12
percent this month, dropping to the lowest since before a November UN report on
Iran’s atomic program that kindled global fears.
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