Steinitz to US: Don't ease financial pressure on Tehran

Intelligence minister to warn US in North American trip that Iran is negotiating only out of financial fear.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz plans to ask the US not to ease the financial pressure on Iran when he visits Washington on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a pre-arranged strategic dialogue that occurs between the two countries every six months.
“The only reason the Iranians are ready to talk and to agree to some compromises is because of the enormous [economic] pressure against them,” Steinitz told The Jerusalem Post before leaving Israel on Saturday night.
Israel is worried that the six world powers that met with Iran in Geneva last week to find a diplomatic solution to halt Tehran’s nuclear weapons program might agree to repeal some of the economic sanctions leveled against Iran before the program is dismantled.
The New York Times speculated on Friday that the US is considering freeing frozen Iranian overseas financial assets as a gesture to Iran, should it curb some aspects of the military nuclear program.
Such a move is not considered to be an easing of sanctions and it could be reversed if need be. Sanctions, once lifted, would be more difficult to put back in place.
“Any easing of the pressure will reduce the chances of success [for a diplomatic solution],” Steinitz said.
“The greater the economic pressure, the greater the chances for success.”
“Our position is that there is no reason to give Iran any permission not to fully fulfill and to fully comply with already existing UN Security Council resolutions,” Steinitz said.
These resolutions have stipulated that Iran must stop the enrichment of uranium and dismantle the apparatus that gives it the capacity to enrich that uranium. According to the UN Security Council, Iran also has to stop building a heavy water reactor in Arak, Steinitz said. He added that economic concessions should be offered to Iran only once these requirements have been met.
Israel and the US have a good collaborative working relationship with regard to Iran, even if there are some minor differences, the intelligence minister said. The same is true with France, Germany and Great Britain.
“It is a very close and friendly collaboration,” he said.
On Friday, he said, the British delegation that had participated in the Geneva talks flew to Israel to update officials here.
Steinitz said that he is scheduled to meet in Washington with members of the US team who attended the Geneva talks, including its leader and chief negotiator with regard to Iran, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
Before arriving in the US, Steinitz will visit Canada on Sunday and Monday, where he will meet that country’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and its Defense Minister Rob Nicholson. Both in Canada and in the US he will discuss other regional issues such as Syria and Turkey.
On Friday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki denied reports that the US would ease economic pressure against Iran before tangible results were achieved.
While the Geneva talks with Iran were more “serious and substantive” than in the past, no agreement was made in Geneva with regard to sanctions relief, Psaki said.
More to the point, she noted, it is not certain that the talks will be successful.
“We’re not taking steps to relieve sanctions. Iran will have to agree to meaningful, transparent, and verifiable actions before we can seriously consider taking steps to ease sanctions.
So discussions of specific types of relief at this point is premature and speculative,” she said, adding that the issue of unfreezing Iranian was similarly premature.
“There are many more discussions, meetings at the technical level, which will be the next step, which need to happen before a determination is made,” she said. “Of course, there will be a range of discussions in the coming weeks within the administration on the national security team and with Congress about how to work together and where we should go from here.”
In statements made after the conclusions of last week’s Geneva talks, Iran has insisted that it has a right to continue to enrich uranium. It has explained that this uranium can also be used for its nuclear power program. Israel has said that such a nuclear power program is not dependent on enriched uranium.
A senior Western diplomat cautioned on Thursday that any breakthrough in diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program was not “close,” seeking to dampen expectations that the next round of talks on November 7-8 could lead to a deal.
Despite the improved atmosphere, diplomats said major differences remained between western governments, which suspect Iran’s nuclear work has covert military goals, and Tehran, which denies that and demands the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
In a series of meetings with Iran since last year, envoys from six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – have demanded that it abandon enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, an important step on the way to producing weapons fuel, in return for modest sanctions relief.
Tehran has spurned their offer and demanded that major restrictions on trade in oil and on its banking sector are eliminated first.
Under Rouhani, Iran appears keen to push for a deal. Sanctions have drastically reduced the OPEC producer’s oil export revenues and helped cut the value of its rial currency.
But Tehran remains in contravention of UN Security Council demands that it halt uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities.
Few details have emerged from the talks in Geneva this week, but in a sign of a dramatic shift from confrontation to dialogue, the two sides issued a joint statement to say that Tehran’s proposals presented at the meeting were an “important contribution.”
Nuclear experts and sanctions specialists from Iran and the six nations, led in diplomacy with Iran by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, will meet in the coming weeks to prepare the next round of negotiations in Geneva.
Reuters contributed to this report.