Miliband: Iran is feeling the impact of sanctions

British foreign secretary tells 'Post': All nuclear proliferation is dangerous; queries settlement policy.

david miliband 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
david miliband 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Iran is clearly feeling the effect of economic sanctions imposed by the international community over its nuclear program, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "Sanctions are clearly having an impact on the Iranian economy," Miliband said, "as is the global economic situation." "All nuclear proliferation is dangerous," but such proliferation in the Middle East is "especially dangerous," Miliband added, speaking at the end of the first day of a visit to the region that will also take him to Syria and Lebanon. Iran, he noted, was facing five UN resolutions demanding that it halt uranium enrichment, and was in conflict with the IAEA over its nuclear program. "All diplomatic means" were being pursued to bring home to the Iranians the seriousness of the issue, said Miliband, without elaborating as to what might ensue if diplomatic and economic pressure failed to deter Teheran. Earlier in the day, Miliband and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed the urgent need to halt the Iranian nuclear program, Israeli sources said. Also during this meeting, Miliband said he was concerned about continued Israeli settlement construction and asked for a clarification of government policy. Olmert said that Israel built only within settlement blocs that it was likely to maintain in a final-status agreement. The British foreign secretary, urged earlier in the day by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni not to "turn a blind eye" to the attacks on Israeli citizens from Gaza, said he would be going to Sderot on Monday to demonstrate "the British people's solidarity with the people of Sderot." Miliband will travel to Sderot with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and will also meet with opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. He said the residents of Sderot faced the "specific insecurity" that Israelis generally feel. While it was up to the Israeli government to decide how to grapple with that security threat, he said, the cease-fire had been "a chink of light... It's important that's preserved." He said he hoped Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could continue to make progress under the Annapolis umbrella and that he had made clear he hoped the incoming Barack Obama administration got engaged "from day one." Miliband, who will be making the highest-level British visit to Syria for several years, dismissed as "nonsense" reports that he would be offering President Bashar Assad the prize of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights as part of a package of measures designed to persuade Syria to abandon its backing for Hamas and Hizbullah, halt its efforts to destabilize Lebanon and distance itself from Iran. "I'm not going to negotiate on anyone's behalf," he said. He added, however, that he had been talking to Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallam for 18 months about Damascus's responsibilities in the region - in Lebanon, including Hizbullah; in Iraq, as regards its dispatch of fighters and arms; in relation to terrorism and other key issues. According to sources in Olmert's office, the prime minister is anxious to renew the indirect Israeli-Syrian talks brokered by Turkey and to meet face-to-face with Assad. As one of the British journalists traveling with Miliband noted, it was the Syrian leg of his visit that was attracting the most attention back home, given the fact that Muallam used a visit to London late last month to issue furious criticism of a US raid into Syria in which eight people were killed, and in the light of former British prime minister Tony Blair's less than successful visit to Damascus seven years ago. What's more, the journalist quipped in particular reference to the September 2007 Israel Air Force raid on an alleged Syrian nuclear site, "it's not often people get to fly directly from Israel to Syria... and land." As to the dispute that has flared between Israel and the UK over labeling products from settlements that are sold in Britain, Miliband said the UK was not reopening the issue, and that the agreement reached between the countries in 2004-5 was "right and good." What was in discussion, he said, was the nature of its implementation. But in their talks, Olmert took issue with Britain over clearly labeling all produce originating in the West Bank settlements. The prime minister reminded Miliband that Israeli produce was exported to Britain as part of a trade agreement with the European Union, and said that Britain had an obligation to comply with that treaty and should not be seeking to amend it.