'EU will now back tough Iran sanctions'

Officials: There's an appreciation that talks will succeed only if Iran knows it has something to lose.

merkel sarkozy munich 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
merkel sarkozy munich 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
US President Barack Obama's engagement policy with Iran has led to a "new spirit" in Europe and a growing consensus for stringent sanctions against Teheran if Obama's policy does not yield results, according to assessments received this week in Jerusalem. According to these assessments, in recent days, since Obama said after meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he would reassess the policy toward Iran at the end of the year, even the "weakest links" on Iran inside Europe - Sweden, Spain and Germany - have begun falling into line behind the possible need for much stiffer sanctions. These countries in the past were very skeptical of sanctions, according to the assessments, but with Obama apparently now willing to give the engagement some six months, they are now indicating they would back the measures if the engagement failed. Following his talks with Netanyahu on Monday, Obama said the engagement with Iran would not be open-ended, and that he would reassess the situation at the end of the year. This is as close as he has yet come to setting a deadline for the engagement. Although stressing that he did not want to set an "artificial deadline," Obama said, "My expectation would be that if we can begin discussions soon, shortly after the Iranian elections, we should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties involved are making progress and that there's a good faith effort to resolve differences. That doesn't mean every issue would be resolved by that point, but it does mean that we'll probably be able to gauge and do a reassessment by the end of the year of this approach." According to the assessments reaching Jerusalem, the feeling in Europe was that Obama was genuinely interested in dialogue with the Iranians, and "if that doesn't work, there will be no choice but to hit the Iranian economy very hard." Among the sanctions being considered are an embargo on refined oil products to Teheran, and not giving landing rights to the Iranian national airline. One government official said this new approach was most evident in countries in Europe that had been reluctant in the past to impose painful sanctions on Iran, and that there was a sense in Jerusalem that some countries which were cold toward the sanctions in the past were speaking differently now, maintaining that "If Obama's outstretched hand is not grasped, then the Iranians deserve a slap." Yossi Levy, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman for the Hebrew media, said that while he was not willing to discuss intelligence reports, "there is no doubt that the European community now understands the urgent need to roll up their sleeves and keep Iran from acquiring nuclear military capabilities." One senior government official who deals extensively with the issue attributed the "new spirit" in Europe to a realization that time was running out on the ability to keep Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities. In addition, he said, there was an appreciation that Obama's engagement with Iran would only be successful if Teheran understood it had something to lose if the dialogue did not yield results. In a related development, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel to Washington, DC, early next month for talks with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Officials said the talks would focus on the Iranian nuclear threat as well as the Obama administration's emerging Middle East diplomatic plan. Barak is also scheduled to meet with National Security Adviser Gen. (ret.) James Jones. Officials said that during his meetings, Barak would also discuss disagreements between Israel and the US over the Joint Strike Fighter, a stealth fighter jet under development by Lockheed Martin which the Air Force is in negotiations to purchase. Israel is trying to obtain Pentagon permission to install Israeli systems on the plane. Yaakov Katz and Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.•