WASHINGTON – The credibility of the UN Security Council and the group of six world powers negotiating over Iran’s nuclear powers will be hurt if imposing new sanctions on Teheran gets drawn out further, a senior State Department official told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
“We believe that delaying much longer is going to have serious consequences for the authority of the Security Council as well as the credibility of the P5+1,” he warned, using the term for the five permanent Security Council members – the US, Russia, China, France and England – and Germany, which have been negotiating with Iran for several years.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed, “We would like to move as quickly as possible. We’ve been trying to engage for the 15 months of the Obama administration, and it hasn’t worked.”
The admission that the engagement policy touted by the administration hasn’t yielded progress in curbing Iran’s nuclear program and halting uranium enrichment – the continuation of which has resulted in previous rounds of US sanctions – has given urgency to American efforts to apply greater pressure.
US President Barack Obama has said he hopes to see a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution in the coming weeks, later defined as this spring, which the State Department official calculated gave the US until late June.
He called that timeframe “realistic” for getting a new resolution, though he wouldn’t talk about the specific language now being hammered out by diplomats behind closed doors.
Though China has often seemed recalcitrant in approving a new resolution, the official called the Asian power “very supportive” of the general approach combining sanctions with diplomatic efforts, as well as “pretty good” when it comes to sanctions implementation. He said he didn’t expect Beijing to veto a resolution, even though, as one of the five permanent members of the council, it has that power.
“I think they’re strongly committed to the idea of unity,” he said.
For America’s part, the official didn’t rule out the possibility that a resolution would be pushed through without full support from the 15-member body, even though almost all other Iran sanctions resolutions have been unanimous. But he did make clear that at this point the Obama administration preferred focusing on the UN process rather than unilateral moves by the US, either on its own or in coordination with a handful of other countries.
He ascribed differences in the US and Israeli perspectives – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently urged imposing crippling sanctions, in comments seen by some as critical of the US not pushing forward aggressively enough – to a careful calculus of how many countries could be brought on board.
“If you want to make something as crippling as possible, it might mean you have only two countries that are signed up for that,” he pointed out. “We understand the prime minister’s view, but we want to make sure we have as many people signed up as possible.”
Still, he praised Israel for being “extremely active” in making the case for the threat a nuclear-armed Iran posed to the world, and internationalizing the issue so it wasn’t seen as merely US-Iranian animosity.
“That’s been extremely helpful,” he said, describing the message to Israel at this point as, “We very much value that close relationship and that close cooperation. Just keep it up.”
Differences, though, have also been apparent in the two timetables the countries have given on when Iran would be able to build a nuclear weapon, with Israel assessing a shorter timeline than America.
The senior official chalked the divergence up to the fact that “predictions are a very inexact science” of capabilities plus intentions – with rhetoric often aimed at domestic political consumption – and noted that the US also didn’t share a common analysis with Europe, Russia or China.
“There’s a hostile intent, not just to Israel but
other immediate neighbors, so that’s a cause for great concern,” he said, but added, “It gets very difficult to figure out the exact degree of the threat or when are they going to have the exact amount of material to build a weapon.”
Still, he said Israel would have to make its own decisions in determining what kind of measures it needed to take – including military action – for its security.
“It’s not really up to other countries to second-guess decisions that other countries make in terms of their own self-defense,” he said, noting that both Obama and his Republican predecessor had stated repeatedly that “all options are on the table.”
But he underscored that military action was not the preferred outcome.
“I think almost every country would agree that it’s better to solve a problem through diplomacy and persuasion and engagement than through violence or military force,” he said.
While military force wasn’t a desired outcome, the State Department
official pushed back even more against the idea of containment.
acknowledged that many non-governmental organizations and think tanks
were urging the US to “just cut to the chase and accept that they’re
going to get this nuclear weapon capability and build a foreign policy
But he responded to the idea by emphasizing, “In
terms of what we’re working toward right now, we’re not prepared to
accept that as an eventuality. The president has made that very clear.
And so we’re working as hard as we can to avoid that.”