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Israel is unconcerned that the current cloud hovering over its relationship with Russia - because of President Vladimir Putin's invitation to Hamas - will impact on Moscow's vote in the United Nations on the Iranian issue, a government official close to the issue said Monday.
According to the official, Israel is confident that when the issue finally comes to the UN Security Council neither Russia nor China will block the implementation of sanctions.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Monday to support discussing the Iranian nuclear issue at the Security Council immediately, as part of an Israeli diplomatic drive that could be characterized as "To the Security Council Now."
This push took on more urgency Monday amid reports that Teheran had postponed talks with Moscow scheduled for Thursday on a plan to enrich its uranium in Russia, and that Teheran has already begun the small-scale enrichment of uranium.
One Israeli official following the Iranian issue closely said that time was running short, and that the diplomatic efforts to get Iran to stop its nuclear program were lagging behind Iranian technological advancements.
Israel, according to the official, would like to see the president of the Security Council, which this month is US Ambassador John Bolton, issue a presidential statement calling on the Iranians to suspend enrichment-related activity, including research and development, and roll back its nuclear program.
The official said that Israel was worried that nothing had changed on the ground since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Iran to the UN Security Council earlier this month. A presidential statement, he said, could be the first step toward taking some concrete action against Iran.
As things stand now, however, the presidential statement itself is unlikely to be made until after another IAEA meeting on March 6, when it is due to issue a report on Iran.
Both Russia and China, permanent members of the Security Council who have veto power there, have pushed for the issue to be delayed until March, apparently in the hope that, by then, the Iranians would have accepted the Russian compromise to enrich uranium in Russia. That possibility looks increasingly unlikely following Iran's decision Monday not to hold talks with Russia at this time.
While Israel has indicated it could live with the enrichment process taking place in Russia, as long as there were firm safeguards that would keep the Iranians from using either the fuel or the know-how for military purposes, the official said that there were some questions about what Russia meant when it said that there should be no uranium enrichment in Iran. While Israel and the US believe that this also means that there should be no research and development inside Iran, the Russian position on this matter is less clear.
Western diplomatic officials have said that if sanctions are agreed upon, there is a "rich menu" to choose from.
The menu can be divided into three stages.
The first stage, comprised of the least severe sanctions, could include the following:
Stopping IAEA technical assistance to Iran, which amounts to a few million dollars a year.
Preventing Iranian scientists from participating in IAEA conferences.
Preventing Iranian students from studying any subject abroad that could be related to the development of weapons of mass destruction or dual-use technology that could be used for these purposes.
Level two of the sanctions menu could include:
Denying visas to Iranian scientists and the heads of the regime.
Lowering the level of Western diplomatic presence in Iran.
Decreasing the number of Iranians allowed to serve at its embassies abroad.
The final level would involve economic sanctions, and could include the following:
Lowering Iran's credit rating.
Placing an embargo on refined oil products entering Iran (Iran imports 40 percent of its refined oil needs).
Western officials said that at the present time there was no international consensus to take economic steps.
"The task for the countries taking the lead on this issue," one official said, "is to reach agreement about the need to place economic measures in the tool box."
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