Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Monday became the latest member of Israel’s cabinet and national security establishment to visit Washington to press senior US officials to lay out a tougher line on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities.
The time has come for US President Barack Obama to give Iran a “very clear ultimatum, very clear deadline combined with a very credible also military threat” Steinitz told a group of reporters Monday before planned meetings with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and other administration officials.
Steinitz said he would tell Geithner that Israel views the financial sanctions imposed on Iran by the Obama administration as “very serious and very effective and the Iranian economy is in bad shape already now.”
The finance minister said he would discuss with Geithner and other White House and State Department officials what Israel perceives as loopholes in sanctions and Iran’s efforts to subvert legal restrictions. He declined to provide examples.
Steinitz said he is encouraged by the sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy, and said it appears that “for the first time maybe at least some Iranians” are questioning whether the nuclear program is “worth the cost.”
Steinitz said Israel’s government is “not confident” to say that the sanctions alone will be sufficient to deter Iran from nuclear-weapons ambitions. The US needs to make clear that Iran will never be allowed to build nuclear weapons, so that any reasonable Iranian leaders should conclude that it is pointless to “suffer from the sanctions,” he said.
Asked if he thinks negotiations between Iran and six world powers, including the US, may yield a durable deal to avert any military action, he said he hopes “a sound and credible diplomatic solution” is possible.
Still, he said, sanctions alone -- or sanctions combined with negotiations -- are “insufficient” to stop Iran from continuing to pursue an atomic-bomb capability. The US must issue “a credible military threat” to persuade Iran’s leadership to abandon any nuclear military ambitions, he said.
“It seems they need something else” to “convince them to change their behavior, to make significant compromises at least for several years,” Steinitz said.
Iran's oil exports down 40 percent
Steinitz's visit came as Iranian oil minister Rostam Qasemi told the country's budget and planning parliamentary commission on Monday that Iran's oil exports have declined by 40 percent due to intensifying Western sanctions implemented over Tehran's illicit nuclear program.
Oil exports have historically accounted for a large percentage of Iran's national budget. In 2011, the Islamic republic relied on approximately $100 billion
brought in by oil exports to cover 60% of its budget.
Over the last 9 months "there has been a 40% decline in oil sales and a 45% decrease in repatriating oil earnings," Qasemi said. He previously had insisted that Western economic pressure was not significantly impeding Iran's crude exports.
In July of last year, Western nations began leveling heavy sanctions against Iran's energy sector, with the European Union prohibiting buying oil from Tehran. Iran's crude sales to Asia, meanwhile, have been hit by an EU insurance ban on Iranian oil shipping and US sanctions against Tehran's central bank.
As a result, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), Iranian oil exports have fallen from around 2.4 million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2011 to around 1.0 mbpd by the end of 2012.
Iran, once the second-biggest crude exporter in OPEC after Saudi Arabia, has slipped to fourth place, now trailing Iraq and Kuwait as well, according to the cartel's figures.