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(photo credit: Defense Ministry)
WASHINGTON – Defense Minister Ehud Barak stressed the need for tough sanctions against Iran as he wrapped up meetings with senior American officials, even as the two allies have disagreed on the severity of punitive measures in recent days.
“What is really needed is significant sanctions, effective ones, within a time limit,” he said during a speech on Friday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. During his five-day visit to the US, Barak emphasized that Iran is not only Israel’s problem. “Iran is not just a challenge to Israel,” he said, envisioning a nuclear Iran that intimidates its neighbors and legitimizes radicalism and terror. “I can hardly think of a stable world order with a nuclear Iran,” he said.
Later, before a meeting at the State Department with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Barak said sanctions should be “consequential,” despite the distinct “possibility that in spite of all effort, it will not lead to Iran accepting the international norms.”
Clinton, who said in recent days that Iran has left the international community “little choice,” made clear that the US is committed to rallying international pressure against Iran. “As the recent IAEA report makes clear, Iran is not living up to its responsibilities, and we are working with our partners in the international community to increase pressure on Iran to change course,” she said Friday. During the meeting, they also discussed Gaza and kick-starting peace negotiations.
During his speech earlier in the day, Barak said he expected proximity talks to start within the next few weeks. A majority in Israel is ready to make peace once they feel there is a readiness on the other side, he said, adding that Israel was not "having this tango alone.”
He also said the Israeli defense establishment believes “that we have strategic interests in putting an end to our conflict with Syria,” he said. “This is an opportunity more than a threat if navigated cleverly,” he said. But he harshly criticized the link between Hizbullah, Iran, Syria and Lebanon. “We cannot accept it,” he said, noting Iran, Syria and Lebanon are all UN member states. “We are strong enough to face a deterioration if it happens on our northern front, but we are not interested in it. We will not initiate it,” he said.
Finally, he described the efforts of an Israeli delegation in Beijing that sought to “exchange views” and “share information” with its Chinese counterparts.
While in Washington, Barak met with senior American officials, including Clinton and US Vice President Joe Biden on Friday, and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen and Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Thursday.
During his meeting with Gates, he reportedly stressed the importance of “crippling” sanctions. But US officials backed away from the term, and US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was not the US “intent to have crippling sanctions that have a significant impact on the Iranian people. Our actual intent is to find ways to pressure the government while protecting the people,” he said.
Barak sought to downplay any disagreement between Israel and the US
during a briefing with reporters on Thursday night. He said sanctions
needed to be “done urgently and with emphasis, tenacity and
determination.” Pressed on the US resistance to “crippling” sanctions,
he responded: “I don’t think the point is about discussing the
definition of sanctions,” rather whether they would stop Iran’s nuclear
capability. “This is the criteria by which we’ll judge.”
Though Israel and the US do not see eye to eye on all issues, “in the
most important things our positions are getting closer,” he said. “My
impression is that America is investing effort and political capital.”
On Friday, Barak emphasized during his speech that Israeli leaders want
peace with their neighbors both to normalize relations and to prevent
the risk of a deteriorated relationship that leads to violence. But he
emphasized that Israel cannot afford to take security risks. “The
Middle East is not the Midwest, neither Western Europe,” he said. “We
are living in a tough neighborhood. It’s a neighborhood where there is
no mercy for the weak, no second opportunity for those who cannot