WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama called on Thursday for the international community to maintain “unprecedented pressure” on Iran to comply with international obligations on nuclear proliferation.
While Obama warned Iran in advance of an IAEA report expected to be the UN nuclear agency’s harshest-yet utterance on Tehran, the US legislature also took steps against the Islamic Republic, with a congressional committee approving tougher sanctions in response to an alleged assassination plot in Washington.
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Following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Cannes, Obama said the two men had discussed “the continuing threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.”
“The IAEA is scheduled to release a report on Iran’s nuclear program next week and President Sarkozy and I agree on the need to maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran to meet its obligations,” Obama told reporters.
In Washington, members of the House of Representatives were pushing a bipartisan bill that would force the president to impose sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank if it is determined that it funds terrorism, nuclear weapons development or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Rather than simply targeting American banks, the bill would prohibit foreign banks that are involved in major transactions with the Iranian Central Bank from operating in the US.
The bill would also deny US visas to foreigners who work with Iran’s nuclear industry.
Similar legislation is being prepared in the Senate, and observers speculate that it has a good chance of being passed into law.
Iran responded to the developing US moves on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi telling reporters during a visit to the Libyan city of Benghazi that “the US has unfortunately lost its wisdom and prudence in dealing with international issues. It only depends on power.”
“Of course we are prepared for the worst, but we hope that they think twice before they put themselves on a collision course with Iran,” he said.
Asked about a missile test conducted by Israel on Wednesday, Salehi said, “That is not important, that is not even something we bother ourselves with.”
Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported on Thursday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yoram Cohen to investigate media leaks alleging that the cabinet was debating the question of a military strike on Iran.
The Prime Minister’s Office has not commented on the issue.
According to the reports, Netanyahu had lobbied ministers to support an attack. The newspaper, which has been the recipient of Israeli government leaks in the past, alleged that former security officials had enlisted journalists and opposition politicians to launch a political campaign against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the Iranian issue.
The leaked reports about discussion in the government, the report added, are all false.
Four cabinet ministers went on the offensive on Wednesday, accusing the media of unprecedented recklessness in publicly discussing the prospects of a strike on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
“There has never been a breakdown of responsibility and a campaign of recklessness like there is today,” Ministerwithout- Portfolio Bennie Begin told Army Radio.
Also on Thursday, President Shimon Peres, who was on a state visit to Cyprus, raised the issue of Iran with his Cypriot counterpart, President Demetris Christofias.
“All world leaders must keep their pledge not to support the Iranian nuclear program,” Peres told his host. The two previously discussed Iran when Christofias visited Israel in March.
At a press conference with Christofias later on Thursday, Peres said all world leaders declared loudly and clearly that they would not permit a situation in which Iran would be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Peres listed as prime examples Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Obama, Sarkozy, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron.
It is impossible to run the world when such promises become meaningless, the president said, who added that a nuclear Iran poses a danger to the whole world, not only to Israel.
Iran has large reservoirs of oil and gas, and there is no doubt that it is using its nuclear resources to create bombs, and not to produce energy, Peres insisted.
Iran is the only nation that is openly threatening to destroy another nation, he said. “But no nation in the world is threatening to destroy Iran.”
Yet for all that, Peres noted, Iran has chosen to be the center for world terrorism and sends armaments and money to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Greer Fay Cashman and Reuters contributed to this report.