Israel to US: Pass more sanctions, Iran could have material for bomb within weeks

Jerusalem official: Debate over 20% enrichment is "meaningless"; Iranian lawmaker says Tehran continues enrichment.

Iran's Arak heavy water reactor 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's Arak heavy water reactor 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel urged the United States to pass a new round of sanctions against Tehran, and warned that Iran could potentially have enough fissile material for a bomb within weeks.
An Israeli official issued comments on Iran’s nuclear program in response to reports from Washington that the White House wanted Congress to hold off on passing a new round of sanctions against Iran as a gesture in the midst of the ongoing six-party talks to diplomatically disarm Iran’s nuclear program.
Senior Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi said his country continued to enrich uranium at the 20 percent purity level, according to Iran’s Press TV. His statement contradicted that of a senior Iranian parliamentarian last week – that Tehran had halted that activity.
Diplomats accredited to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said on Friday they had no information to substantiate that Iran had stopped such enrichment.
Iran’s enrichment of uranium to a fissile level of 20% is a major technical step, taking it just short of the concentration needed for a nuclear weapon.
Iran says it needs the material only to fuel a medical research reactor.
An envoy in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, said he believed Iran was continuing to refine uranium to the 20% threshold. The next quarterly IAEA report on Iran is to be issued in November.
An Israeli official said on Saturday night that the entire debate over whether Iran had continued to enrich uranium at that level was “meaningless” and an attempt to divert attention from the main issue: The need for Iran to completely stop uranium enrichment at any level.
The international community, therefore, should ensure the full dismantlement of Iran’s military nuclear weapons program, and until it does, sanctions against Iran should be increased, the official said.
“A nation that can enrich uranium to 3.5% can have the ability” through innovative centrifuges “to enrich it at 90%. A nation that has the ability to recycle fuel, is almost guaranteed the ability to produce nuclear weapons,” the official said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu already spoke of this point when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York at the end of September, the official said.
The official saw no reason why Iran, which systematically violates UN Security Council resolutions, should retain any enrichment capability or a heavy water reactor, given that these two elements are not necessary for a civilian nuclear energy program, but only for the development of nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu conveyed a similar message to US Secretary of State John Kerry when the two men met in Rome last week, and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said the same thing to US Vice President Joseph Biden when the two men met in Washington on Thursday.
Both the US and Israel agree that Iran’s nuclear program must be halted, and that existing sanctions should not be eased until this happens. However, the two governments differ on the issue of imposing new sanctions.
Until Iran met with the six negotiating parties – the US, Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – in Geneva earlier this month, the US Congress was poised to pass a new round of sanctions against Iran that would be particularly crippling.
A round of six-party talks with Iran is to be held next week in Geneva, on November 7 and 8.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington on Friday that it was important to give diplomacy time to work before taking further action, and that additional sanctions could be imposed later.
“We have conveyed that any congressional action should be aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward. So while we understand that Congress may consider new sanctions, we think this is a time for a pause, as we asked for in the past, to see if negotiations can gain traction.... We feel that it’s important that any new proposals take into account the progress we’re making diplomatically and leave open the flexibility. There’s always time for sanctions in the future as needed,” she said.
Yukiya Amano, director-general of the IAEA, is to meet in the agency’s Vienna headquarters with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi for about an hour on Monday.
“The meeting will provide an opportunity to exchange views on the way forward,” the IAEA said in a statement.
It gave no details. The fact that the Amano-Araqchi meeting appeared to be scheduled on short notice may be seen as a further sign of the Iranian government’s desire to try to end international deadlock over the country’s nuclear program.
The meeting is to be followed by a round of negotiations later the same day, also in Vienna, between senior officials from both sides over a stalled IAEA investigation into suspicions of Iranian nuclear research.
Neither Amano nor Araqchi is due to take part in those previously scheduled talks, which would be the 12th such meeting since early 2012.
The IAEA-Iran talks have so far failed to yield a breakthrough deal that would allow the agency to resume its inquiry.
Sanctions imposed in 2011 by the US and the European Union have combined to slash Iran’s oil exports by more than 1 million barrels a day, depriving Tehran of billions of dollars worth of sales a month and helping to drive up inflation and unemployment.
In Washington, Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will hold a briefing on Thursday on the status of nuclear talks with Iran for members of a US Senate committee considering tough sanctions on Tehran, Senate aides said on Friday.
The House of Representatives passed its version of a stiffer sanctions package in July by a 400-20 vote. The House bill seeks to slash Iran’s oil exports by another 1 million barrels a day.
The Senate bill could reduce the ability of President Barack Obama’s administration to offer waivers to the sanctions. But the measure has not come to a vote in the banking committee, a prelude to its consideration by the full Senate. The two versions would then be reconciled before being sent to Obama for his signature.
It appeared on Friday that banking committee leaders, who had already put off consideration of the package from September, agreed to further delay.
Debate on amendments to the measure, known as the committee markup, had been expected as soon as early next week with a vote on Thursday, but Senate aides said they did not expect the markup next week.
The White House hosted a meeting of aides to Senate committee leaders on Thursday seeking to persuade lawmakers to hold off on the new sanctions package.
Reuters contributed to this report.