Barak: Iran must be given deadline in nuke talks

Amid threat of US sanctions, S. African deputy FM says Pretoria has suspended almost all oil imports from Iran.

Barak 311 (photo credit: Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry)
Barak 311
(photo credit: Ariel Harmoni / Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged publicly on Thursday that Israel and the US have different clocks when looking at Iran, with Washington able – because of its greater military capabilities – to wait longer to strike the country than Israel.
The way to bridge this gap, he said in an interview with Israel Radio, is to speed up the sanctions, “set a bar” and create a short timeline for the talks between Iran and European powers that are to begin next month.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear in Ottawa earlier this month that Israel’s expectation was that at the end of any talks, Iran would dismantle its nuclear facility at Qom, stop enriching uranium and remove all uranium enriched beyond 3.5 percent from the country.
According to Barak, Jerusalem and Washington agree fully on the intelligence information on Iran. Likewise, the rhetoric is also similar, with leaders from both countries saying that they were determined to keep Iran from “going nuclear,” and that it was forbidden to take any option off the table.
“There is a difference in perspective,” he said. “The US is looking at this as the leader of the world, and Israel is looking at it as someone threatened from up close.”
Barak said the difference between the US and Israel was the timeline perspective, “because America has more capabilities than Israel. As a result, it is possible to think of a situation where Israel will be limited in its ability to deal with the issue, and the US can say there are still long months [available] to deal with the issue without risking an allout war.”
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
Setting a deadline for the talks, Barak said, would make it possible to determine Iranian intent before Israel would find itself pushed to the side and unable to stop the Iranian program anymore.
The defense minister dismissed the notion that he was now against Israel acting alone without US involvement, as opposed to Netanyahu, who holds a different position.
“There is no difference between us on how we see things,” Barak said. “Obviously there are differences on one detail or the other, but all in all we view the whole matter in the same way.”
He said the reason Iran had not completely burned its bridges with the International Atomic Energy Agency was the concern that doing so could lead to action by the US, “or somebody else,” against it. In the interim, he said, the Iranians were spreading the nuclear program out across the country and fortifying it underground – so that by the time all negotiations and discussions have ended, it will be too late for Israel to take any effective action against it.
Meanwhile, South African Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said Pretoria had suspended almost all of its oil imports from Iran and intended to abide by a US request to make significant cuts in its Iranian supplies.
“[To my knowledge], no Iranian oil is flowing into our country,” Ebrahim told a news conference. “If there is any, it is very little.”
South Africa is on a US State Department list of 12 countries that buy Iranian oil and could have been subject to American sanctions had it not significantly cut purchases.
Iran is South Africa’s leading crude supplier, accounting for about 29% of oil imports to Africa’s biggest economy, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Earlier, cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi said South Africa had not decided what to do about the US request.
“There’s no decision made one way or the other, but the cabinet is deliberating on Iran,” he told a news conference.
South Africa’s energy minister said last week she hoped to have a plan by the end of May for replacing supplies from Iran.
Ebrahim said he did not agree with the US move to impose sanctions on countries that purchased Iranian oil. But he said Pretoria was forced to abide by it due to the economic hit South Africa would take if it did not comply.
“We don’t have any choice in the matter,” he said. As a sovereign country, South Africa should be able to buy oil from wherever it wants, Ebrahim said.
Reuters contributed to this report.