G8 committed to Iran sanctions

As world leaders meet in US, Netanyahu "skeptical" nuclear talks will succeed, says Tehran shows no evidence of backing down.

US President Barack Obama speaks at G8 summit 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Winning)
US President Barack Obama speaks at G8 summit 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Winning)
US President Barack Obama said on Saturday leaders of the Group of Eight major economies are committed to continuing sanctions, pressure and diplomatic discussions with Iran, even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said a day earlier this approach was not working.
“All of us are firmly committed to continuing with the approach of sanctions and pressure in combination with diplomatic discussions,” Obama told reporters at the G8 meeting at the US presidential retreat in Camp David.
“And our hope is that we can resolve this issue in a peaceful fashion that respects Iran’s sovereignty and its rights in the international community, but also recognizes its responsibilities,” he said.
The Camp David summit came four days before the next round of Iran talks, to be held in Baghdad. The G8 leaders “affirmed the importance of having a uniform effort in approaching those Baghdad talks next week,” one US official said.
But Netanyahu was skeptical, saying on Friday in Prague, after meeting Czech President Vaclav Klaus, that he has seen “no evidence whatsoever that Iran is serious about stopping its nuclear weapons program.
“It looks as though they [the Iranians] see these talks as another opportunity to deceive and delay, just like North Korea did for years,” Netanyahu said.
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“They may try to go from meeting to meeting with empty promises. They may agree to something in principle but not implement it. They may even agree to implement something that does not materially derail their nuclear weapons program,” he said.
“Iran is good at playing this chess game,” Netanyahu explained. “They know that sometimes you have to sacrifice a pawn to save the king.”
Netanyahu said the goal of the negotiations with the Iranians needed to be clear: “Freeze all enrichment inside Iran. Remove all enriched material and dismantle [the uranium enrichment facility near the city of] Qom,” he said. “When this goal is achieved, I will be the first to applaud. Until then, count me among the skeptics.”
Following the first round of talks in Istanbul between Iran and what is know as the P5+1 – the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – Netanyahu said Tehran was given a five-week “freebie,” a statement that apparently irked Obama, who countered the following day by sharply rejecting that characterization.
The leaders of the G8 seemed to raise the pressure on Iran on Saturday, signaling their readiness to tap into emergency oil stockpiles quickly this summer if tougher new sanctions on Tehran threaten to strain supplies.
In unusually blunt language, the G8 put the International Energy Agency – the West’s energy adviser responsible for coordinating reserves – on standby for action.
It was the clearest sign yet that Obama was winning support for tapping government-held oil stockpiles for the second time in two years.
“Looking ahead to the likelihood of further disruptions in oil sales and the expected increased demand over the coming months, we are monitoring the situation closely and stand ready to call upon the International Energy Agency to take appropriate action to ensure that the market is fully and timely supplied,” the G8 said in a communique after its summit.
Although it made no explicit mention of oil reserves, the message was unmistakable, analysts said.
“The word ‘likely’ signals further disruptions in oil markets don’t need to be earth-shattering to potentially prompt action” to tap oil reserves, said Michael Levi, an energy policy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Speculation has been growing that Obama would use an energy session at the G8 to seek support to tap emergency oil reserves before a European Union embargo of Iranian crude takes effect in July and tough new US sanctions come into force in late June. Exports have already fallen by more than a fifth this year.
The meeting also showed that this month’s slump in oil prices has not deterred Obama from moving toward tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) again – an unprecedented second release for a US president. That could expose him to criticism from Republicans that he is using a national security tool to win votes this November.
Michael Froman, a senior White House aide, told reporters that although oil prices have been declining in recent weeks, they remain high. He said the G8 was committed to keeping global oil markets well supplied, but did not discuss any specific trigger that would prompt action.
“Referring to the IEA is a way to talk about the SPR, without talking about the SPR,” said Levi.
Britain, France and Japan have all signaled their readiness to press ahead with a release of reserves, according to sources and media reports, although the head of the IEA and the European Union’s energy chief have both recently said they see no need to act.
Germany too has resisted tapping stockpiles again, after last year’s release to make up for Libya’s disruption.
The statement also made an indirect reference to concerns that big producers – principally Saudi Arabia – may be running short of extra capacity to boost output further, more reason to ready emergency stocks. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi says the kingdom is pumping around 10 million barrels per day, leaving it another 2.5 million bpd in reserve. But some analysts fear it could not sustain output at that peak level.
“There have been increasing disruptions in the supply of oil to the global market over the past several months, which pose a substantial risk to global economic growth,” it said. “In response, major producers have increased their output while drawing prudently on excess capacity.”
Saudi officials have highlighted the 80 million barrels the kingdom is storing at home and abroad, measures meant to assure consumer nations that it can keep the world supplied with crude without the need to tap into emergency stocks.
Tapping the reserves is not a foregone conclusion. It is unclear whether Obama and allies would opt to wait and see if Iran’s exports fall and prices spike, or move preemptively to head off a speculative panic that could drive US gasoline quickly above $4 a gallon.
US crude oil has tumbled 12 percent this month, dropping to the lowest since before a November UN report on Iran’s atomic program that kindled global fears.