The UN Security Council is likely to reach a decision on a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in March, Austria’s Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, whose country is currently one of the 15 countries on the Security Council, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“I think that we have to be ready for a decision within the next weeks,” he said just prior to a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Spindelegger, who is holding talks with both Israeli and Palestinian officials during his three-day visit, said it was not realistic that – as some had hoped – a decision on sanctions could be shepherded through the Security Council while France held the presidency of that body. France, which advocates taking a tough stand against Iran, holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council until the end of February, when it will be replaced by Gabon.

Netanyahu, in a speech Wednesday evening in Jerusalem before The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, repeated what he said a number of times in Russia over the last two days – that the sanctions needed to target Iran’s energy sector must be stronger.

“I think the nature of this [Iranian] regime now is understood,” Netanyahu said. “Now that we have this understanding it is possible to apply very forceful sanctions.

“Watered-down sanctions, modest sanctions, will not do the job. If anything can do the job it is tough sanctions, crippling sanctions. And this means curtailing the importation of refined petroleum products, gasoline, and also curtailing the export of energy products, because Iran, and this regime’s budget particularly, are heavily dependent on the energy sector.”

Spindelegger, in his interview, was noncommittal on the type of sanctions that he thought needed to be imposed, saying that negotiations on the matter in the Security Council were just starting. He said that the measures taken, however, should not hurt Iranian citizens, adding, “I don’t think this would be the right signal.”

But, he said, “if we want to have real effectiveness on the regime in Iran we have to talk about sanctions and create such sanctions that really can have such an effect.”

As to what those sanctions needed to be, he said, “We have not decided yet,” adding that finding a compromise among the five permanent members of the Security Council – the US, Russia, China, France and Britain – was a “delicate issue.”

“I can’t tell you at the moment if we will reach a compromise in the Security Council on the issue of the energy sector,” he said.

Asked if Austria was convinced that Iran intended to manufacture nuclear weapons, Spindelegger said, “Nobody knows what is in their mind. Of course, nobody wants nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime. So we have to do something to ensure that it is not a reality in the future.”

“If you look at the announcements of Iranian President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad over the last few days, we have to react, there is no alternative – with sanctions, and with discussion about that,” he said.



Asked whether, if the Security Council only passed a weak sanctions resolution, Austria would join other countries outside of the Security Council framework and impose sanctions of their own, the Austrian Foreign Minister said Austria has made it clear that if the sanctions fail at the Security Council level “we are ready to talk about sanctions by the EU. But first we should try to have sanctions at the Security Council level, because then you have more support from all the countries of the world, and not just sanctions decided by the European council.”

Spindelegger said he thought it was wise for Netanyahu to have gone to Russia earlier this week and discussed the sanctions issue with the Kremlin, and that he thought Israel’s lobbying for sanctions was the “right thing.”

By the same token, he added, Netanyahu’s comments and warnings don’t influence public opinion in his country on whether sanctions should or should not be imposed. “Of course,” he said, “we have to decide from our point of view.”

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