PM urges Iran fuel sanctions

Netanyahu praises Medvedev for showing understanding over nuclear issue.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
February 16, 2010 04:16
4 minute read.
Netanyahu Medvedev

Netanyahu Medvedev 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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MOSCOW – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his delegation emerged from nearly four hours of talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday confident that Moscow has come a long way toward believing Teheran wants nuclear weapons, but unsure whether a nuclear Iran is a prospect the Kremlin feels it cannot live with.

Whether Russia is willing to abide a nuclear Iran is unclear, one senior source in Netanyahu’s delegation said after the talks.

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Nevertheless, Netanyahu – who told reporters after his meeting with Medvedev that he made clear that “crippling” sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s energy sector were needed now – praised the Russian president for having both a good understanding of Israel’s concern, as well as of Iran’s capabilities and aims.

“I think Russia understands very well what Iran’s goals are, and what situation it is in now regarding its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said, adding that Moscow was currently involved in discussions with other countries in the UN Security Council regarding the nature and gravity of another round of sanctions.

“Russia certainly understands that there is a need to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and understands that there is a need to take various steps,” he said.

“President Medvedev heard from me about the need for sanctions with teeth,” Netanyahu added. “Weak, watered down sanctions will simply not do the job.”

The prime minister said that with some 80 percent of the Iranian government’s revenue related to the energy sector, he hoped that “aggressive sanctions” against this sector would be imposed, including the ban of oil exports and an embargo on the import of refined petroleum products.



“The argument today is not Iran’s distance from nuclear capability,” Netanyahu said, “but what needs to be done to stop it. Most countries now believe there is a need to impose sanctions. The question now is what sanctions, and how severe.”

While official Russian spokesmen having been saying for years that they have not seen any evidence convincing them that Iran intended to build nuclear weapons, one senior diplomatic official in Netanyahu’s delegation said that “it would be an understatement” to say that the Russians no longer adhere to that position.

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Summing up talks with Medvedev that went for nearly four hours, twice the allotted time, Netanyahu characterized the discussions as “excellent” and very “warm.”

The prime minister met Medvedev in the Kremlin first with a small number of advisers – National Security Council head Uzi Arad, military attaché Brig.-Gen. Yohanan Locker, and Diaspora Affairs and Information Minister Yuli Edelstein, who served as a translator. Later the teams were enlarged for a lunch meeting.

Netanyahu, who arrived in Moscow early on Monday morning for two days of talks, is scheduled to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimr Putin on Tuesday. He met with a group of leaders from the Jewish community on Monday evening.

No joint statement or press conference was held after the meeting with Medvedev, although beforehand Medvedev said that “Israel for us is not some ordinary partner, but the country with which we are connected by many years of relations and a special composition of the population.”

Asked at a media conference he held with the traveling Israeli press whether he received a clear answer from Medvedev regarding the delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, Netanyahu said, “I trust what I heard from the president of Russia. I trust him because I know that in this issue, Russia is guided by concerns about regional stability.”

Israel has said in the past that the sale of S-300s to Iran, which could be used to defend its nuclear installations, would tip the strategic balance in the region.

Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev, meanwhile, clarified that reports that Medvedev had promised Netanyahu that the S-300s would not be delivered to Iran were “journalistic speculation.”

A day before the prime minister’s arrival, the deputy head of Russia’s National Security Council, Vladimir Nazarov, was quoted as saying the weapons systems would be delivered.

Netanyahu also said following the talks that the diplomatic process with the Palestinian was raised.

The senior official in his delegation said the prime minister made it clear to the Russians, who have been lobbying for a Moscow peace conference since the Annapolis conference in 2007, that Israel had no objection to the idea of such a conference, and was “very flexible” regarding how to relaunch talks with the Palestinian.

According to the official, what was important was not whether the talks would be restarted in a conference in Moscow, Paris or through indirect “proximity talks” carried out by the Americans, but rather that the talks begin without preconditions, and that Israel not be expected to make concessions to the Palestinian just to get them to the negotiation table.

The official said that Netanyahu urged Medvedev to push the Palestinians toward the negotiations. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Moscow in late January, is expected to pay another visit to the Kremlin in the coming weeks. Moscow is also expected to hold a meeting of the Quartet by the end of the month.

Another official in Netanyahu’s delegation, however, said that the Russians did not see eye-to-eye with the Americans over the centrality of restarting negotiations immediately, believing that it was more important to buttress the PA’s position in the territories and to facilitate reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was hosted in Moscow last week, and Israeli officials said that Netanyahu made known to the Russians Israel’s opposition to contacts with the organization.

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