US, EU may increase Iran sanctions, US official says

“There is still time for diplomacy to work if Iran will respond to pressure,” senior American official states.

July 19, 2012 03:47
3 minute read.
Iranian man walks past a currency exchange shop

US hits Iran with fresh sanction on banks 390 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)

The US and EU are talking in Brussels this week about the possibility of strengthening sanctions against Iran, a senior US official told Israeli reporters.

“There are new discussions this week in Europe about additional sanctions [against Tehran],” the official said.

He added that he did not want to be specific, but “there is quite a list of additional measures that can be taken.”

“We are prepared to do more. We believe that a number of our allies are prepared to do more,” said the official.

“Deeper enforcement and implementation of previous sanctions will have an effect.”

He spoke with Israeli reporters after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s one-day visit to Israel on Monday. Her visit followed that of her deputy William Burns and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is due in Israel next week.

“These visits are part of continuous discussions between the two countries,” the official said.

Iran was one of the key topics in meetings between Israeli and US officials. It also dominated the conversation between Israeli reporters and the senior US official.

Israel and the US agree that Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped and that sanctions is the preferred strategy to use against Tehran. But they disagree on the length of time to rely on that strategy. Israel is worried that the window for a military strike will be lost if action is not taken soon, while the US believes there is still more time for sanctions to work.

On Wednesday, however, the US official dismissed this difference. He reiterated a statement Clinton made Monday, in which she said Israel and the US are on the same page when it comes to Iran.

One reporter asked wryly, “But are they on the same paragraph?” Another added, “Is it a page in the same book?” The official stressed that the two countries consulted heavily with each other on Iran, particularly on the issue of sanctions.

“There is no step with respect to the P5 + 1 talks that has not been fully coordinated with Israel,” said the official.

The US, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany have held three rounds of P5+1 talks with Iran in the last months, which to date have not yielded results.On Monday in Jerusalem Clinton said, “The proposals we have seen from Iran thus far within the P-5+1 negotiations are nonstarters.

Despite three rounds of talks, it appears that Iran has yet to make a strategic decision to address the international community’s concerns and fulfill their obligations under the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and the UN Security Council.”

On Wednesday, the US official told reporters, “There is still time for diplomacy to work if Iran will respond to pressure.” He noted that the sanctions were already heavily impacting Iran, and the full brunt of the latest round of private sanctions taken by the US and Europe had yet to be fully felt.

One reporter said continued talk of a diplomatic solution might lull Iran into believing that a military strike will not happen.

“We have not taken any option off the table,” the US official responded.

He also spoke of the strong bond between Israel and the US, and said his country was committed to Israel’s security.

One reporter asked him about Clinton’s remarks – which made headlines in the Israeli media – that she did not believe Jonathan Pollard would be released from jail.

Pollard has been in a an American prison since 1987 for passing classified information to Israel.

Clinton’s trip to Israel was partially seen as an attempt by the Obama administration to demonstrate its strong ties with Israel, in order to counter the media impact of a visit later this month by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“What was the political logic of Clinton’s comments on Pollard?” the reporter asked.

The official answered, “I did not think she said anything that newsworthy.” He noted that Clinton was not tasked with dealing with the Pollard issue, and had simply repeated the official US position – which was well known and had not changed.

“She described the situation,” he said.

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