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Following Iran's rejection of the latest international effort to prevent it from building nuclear weapons, Israel is urging the international community to impose sanctions aimed at denying Teheran any nuclear fuel cycle capabilities, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Iran's Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki on Wednesday rejected a proposal for Iran to export some 70 percent of its low-enriched uranium for further processing, prompting US President Barack Obama to declare Thursday that the US was now moving to negotiate new sanctions with its allies.
Obama showed impatience at Iranian foot-dragging and suggested that Iran had rejected the export offer "for internal political reasons, or perhaps because they are stuck in some of their own rhetoric."
"They have been unable to get to 'yes,' and so as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences," Obama said at a news conference in Seoul with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
The five UN Security Council permanent members, plus Germany (P5+1), met in Brussels on Friday afternoon to discuss what measures could be applied against Teheran for its refusal to halt its nuclear enrichment program.
The US, the Post has further learned, has no intention of supporting any amendment of the rejected offer to turn the Iranian nuclear stockpiles into fuel rods. The US is understood to believe that Iran's rejection of what was largely a Russian initiative for the export of the low-enriched uranium has improved the prospects of wider international support, critically including that of Moscow, for more stringent economic sanctions.
Iran's rejection of the deal, the US is said to believe, has crystallized the dispute, leaving Teheran increasingly discredited.
Iran's rejection of the offer to export its low-enriched uranium has led to a degree of despair among the P5+1 countries regarding the effectiveness of dialogue with Iran. In recent days even Russia, which has opposed ratcheting up sanctions against Iran, has issued statements expressing disappointment at the Iranian position, and hinting that it might be nearing the time to impose more hard hitting sanctions.
The issue was believed to be on the top of the agenda at meetings Obama held this week in Asia with both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Behind the scenes, meanwhile, Israel is arguing that Teheran's refusal to allow the export of most of its supply of low-enriched uranium demonstrates that it wants to preserve that stockpile for non-peaceful purposes. Furthermore, Israel has noted, Iran's failure to come clean about all aspects of its Qom enrichment facility - fortified, buried deep inside a mountain and intended to hold 3,000 centrifuges - underlines its failure to act within legal international provisions.
As a consequence, Israel believes, Iran should be penalized by the UN Security Council. It should be prevented from putting the Qom facility to any enrichment use, even within permitted limits. Moreover, the international community should insist on the cessation of all enrichment and all plutonium production, and should peg all sanctions to the original Security Council insistence that Iran not have any nuclear fuel cycle capabilities.
If such sanctions cannot be imposed via the UN, because of insufficient support, Israel further argues, then they should be applied as soon as possible by a coalition of the willing.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier this week reiterated that Iran "must be prevented from developing a nuclear military capability."
Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons "threatens our security, the chances for peace in the Middle East and global security," he said in a speech to the Saban Forum on Sunday.
Netanyahu went on to describe the fate of Iran's nuclear program as "a true turning point in history." The international community "must stand firmly behind its demands that Iran stop its nuclear weapons program, and must be prepared to immediately apply strong sanctions if those demands are not met, preferably in the framework of the Security Council. If this is not possible, there is an alternative - strong sanctions may be applied by a broad coalition of important countries that understands the seriousness of the threat."
At the same event, former US president Bill Clinton warned of the dangers of a proliferation of dirty bombs, noting that the kind of bomb that was used to kill 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, if combined with fissile material, would "take out 20% of Washington."
Obama said in South Korea that he expected that "over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran." But he left open the option that diplomacy could still work. "I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door" and accept the proposal to ship its low-enriched uranium out of the country, he said.
Any new measures are likely to take months to enact, if the difficulties in crafting this year's UN sanctions on North Korea are any indication.
While the Brussels meeting had not been expected to lead to an immediate call for new sanctions, the P5+1 had been expected to discuss a work plan for what has been described as "the pressure track."
Further discussion on this is expected at the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors meeting next week.
AP contributed to this report