Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised the newest round of EU sanctions on Iran on Tuesday, but warned they would only be effective if backed by a credible military option.
Netanyahu, during a meeting with the EU ambassadors stationed here, said that what the EU did in ratcheting up the sanctions on Monday was “very important,” but he cast doubt on whether this would prevent the Iranians from continuing their nuclear program.
While the sanctions were hitting the Iranian economy hard, he said, they “have not yet rolled back the Iranian program.”
The prime minister pointed out that in 2003, Libya stopped its nuclear program and Iran temporarily suspended its own nuclear development, only when they feared US military action following the invasion of Iraq.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and thanked her for what he described as the EU’s “resolute and important step, worthy of significant appreciation, especially as it has been taken in a difficult economic period.”
Liberman acknowledged in the letter that there “remain certain disagreements” between the EU and Israel on various issues, and that he had not been shy about expressing himself on those issues in the past.
“Therefore, I find it fitting to provide public expression to my gratitude and to our appreciation for your determination on preventing Iran’s nuclear proliferation plans,” he wrote.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the EU listed more than 30 firms and institutions in its Official Journal as targets for asset freezes in EU countries, including the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), a large crude exporter, and the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).
Both are vital to the Iranian oil industry, the main source of revenue for the government.
Their importance has risen in recent months as the EU and the United States seek to reduce Tehran’s access to cash by forcing Western companies to halt trade with the Islamic Republic.
This was part of the new EU sanctions, which also included strengthening restrictions on the central bank, banning imports of Iranian natural gas and imposing broad measures against EU companies cooperating with Iran’s ship-building industry.
Iran said the sanctions would not work.
“We recommend that, instead of taking the wrong approach and being stubborn and using pressure... with a logical approach they can return to discussions,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference.
The US imposed restrictions on NIOC last month and has blacklisted the tanker company.
Justifying the decision, EU governments said that both NIOC and NITC provided financial support to Iran’s government.
One expert in Washington said both companies served Tehran as fronts for nuclear procurement abroad.
“To shield NITC from sanctions, the Iranian regime concocted a fictitious privatization scheme in the early 2000s,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has advised the US government and lawmakers on sanctions.
“But in truth, NITC was always a tool in the hands of the regime.”
Washington has argued that NIOC is linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s elite force, which, according to the US Treasury Department, has recently been coordinating attempts to circumvent Western sanctions of Iranian oil sales.
A spokesman for Ashton said the six powers negotiating with Iran were hoping to resume talks soon, but that no more meetings had yet been scheduled.
“We focus our sanctions on those who are responsible for the [Iranian] nuclear program, while at the same being open to talks,” Michael Mann told a regular news briefing in Brussels. “We have always said we don’t do sanctions for their own sake.”
In Tuesday’s list, the EU also targeted NIOC subsidiaries, as well as the National Iranian Gas Company and National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution.
Several banks were also listed.
Neither the US nor Europe imports Iranian oil, and both are trying to curb Iran’s sales elsewhere.