Israel to press Austrian FM on Iran sanctions

22-billion-euro oil deal with Teheran is a cause for concern.

ursula plassnik 224.88 (photo credit: )
ursula plassnik 224.88
(photo credit: )
Israel is expected to press Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who arrived Monday evening for a two-day visit, for greater cooperation by Vienna on meaningful economic sanctions against Iran. Plassnik, on her third visit as foreign minister, is scheduled to meet both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Last April, Austria's state-owned energy and gas company OMV signed a letter of memorandum for a €22 billion agreement to develop Iranian gas and oil fields, a deal that has even been criticized by the Germans, who are Iran's largest EU trading partner. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, along with Britain, has been trying to establish a unified European sanctions regime against Iran, independent of UN sanctions, but has faced resistance by some EU countries, such as Austria, Germany, Italy and Spain. Plassnik's visit comes amid renewed hopes in Jerusalem and Washington that the EU will adapt its own economic sanctions along the lines of measures recently taken by the US. The issue of EU sanctions is also expected to be high on Olmert's agenda when he goes on a scheduled trip next week to Germany and discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Foreign Ministry officials said a decision by the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution calling for a third round of sanctions against Iran, a resolution expected to be approved this month, will make it easier for some of the European countries who at present do not support independent EU sanctions to do so. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said when he visited Israel at the end of January that if a third UN resolution could be passed in the next few weeks, "there is every reason to believe the EU will return to discussions they have been having for the last few months about EU sanctions, which will undoubtedly be much tougher." In addition to discussing Iran, Plassnik - who will meet Israeli leaders on Tuesday and Palestinian Authority officials on Wednesday - will also be briefed about the diplomatic process and the current situation in the Gaza Strip. Foreign Ministry officials said the Austrian foreign minister would be told about the importance of maintaining international sanctions against Hamas until it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The officials said that while there is a great deal of concern in Europe about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, this concern has not weakened the governments' position on maintaining a boycott against Hamas. In addition, Israel, according to Foreign Ministry officials, will take advantage of Plassnik's visit - as it does with the visits of all EU foreign ministers - to lobby for Israel's relationship with the EU to include greater involvement in various EU agencies.