Israel, Germany meet to discuss tougher Iran sanctions

Top-level German Foreign Ministry delegation arrives for discussions including new proposal from Berlin to step up sanctions against Teheran.

A top-level German Foreign Ministry delegation arrived Tuesday for a day of discussions that included a new proposal from Berlin to step up sanctions against Teheran. Senior Foreign Ministry officials said Israel was studying the proposal, which is still under wraps. The German delegation was headed by the equivalent of the Foreign Ministry's director-general. Der Spiegel reported this week that Germany wanted further sanctions against Iran that would hit its banking and transportation sectors, and that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had discussed these measures recently with France and Britain. According to the report, the Europeans wanted to give US president-elect Barack Obama leverage in any future dialogue with Teheran. The proposal comes as Israeli officials are saying that certain countries in Europe, particularly France and Britain, are leading efforts to keep up the sanctions momentum against the Iranians at a time when Washington is increasingly preoccupied not with Iran, but rather with the transfer of power in the US. In a related development, Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Military Bureau head, is reportedly traveling to Moscow on Wednesday to again discuss reports that Russia is interested in talking with Teheran about the sale of the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft system. Israel has for months been trying to convince Moscow not to sell this system to Iran or Syria, and it was the centerpiece of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's talks at the Kremlin in October. After that meeting, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Moscow has "declared more than once at the very highest political level that we do not intend to supply those types of armaments to countries located in regions that are, to put it mildly, uneasy." Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday that the sting of international sanctions was forcing at least some Iranian leaders to second-guess the regime's rebuff of world demands that it roll back its nuclear program. "The Iranians are paying real costs for their behavior," Rice said in an interview with AP. "It hasn't yet convinced them that they have to change their course, but there are plenty of voices being heard inside that government that are talking about the costs and about whether or not they've made a mistake in getting themselves so deeply isolated." Rice did not name names, and Iran's diffuse power structure can make it hard for outsiders, especially the United States, to know whose opinion matters in setting policy. Rice insisted that UN and other penalties were forcing hard financial choices on Iran, which is already under economic stress. Without predicting that Teheran would heed international calls to stop its nuclear activities, Rice said there was reason to believe the accumulating costs created by economic sanctions would make a difference at some point. "Sooner or later they are going to have to deal with the fact - particularly with declining oil prices - that those costs are going to become pretty acute," she said. Rice's comments came prior to a scheduled meeting on Iran at the UN Tuesday with representatives from the US, Britain, France, China, Russia, Germany and a number of Arab countries. AP contributed to this report.