PM: Iran not just Israel's problem

PM says Israel feels threatened by Teheran but has "the might to defend itself from any threat."

Olmert julis 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert julis 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Israel has the "strength and might" to defend itself against Iran, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday, a day after the UN Security Council voted for a third round of sanctions on Iran, and Iran vowed to disregard them. "Israel certainly feels threatened by Iran," Olmert told Druse students in Julis during a visit to the North. "Israel has the strength and might to defend itself from all threats." But Olmert added that he did not think the Iranian issue was primarily Israel's responsibility, the line the government has taken on the Iranian nuclear situation for years. "It is the responsibility of the United States and the leading countries in the international community that are convinced Iran constitutes a threat," he said. Olmert said additional steps needed to be taken by the international community, but did not spell out what he had in mind. Meanwhile, Teheran vowed to continue with uranium enrichment, calling the new sanctions "worthless" and politically biased. The sanctions approved Monday ordered a freeze on assets of additional Iranian officials and companies with links to the country's nuclear and missile programs. They banned, for the first time, trade with Iran in some goods with both civilian and military uses. Even though the UN Security Council approved the new measures in a 14-0 vote, with Indonesia abstaining, unity among the major powers faltered Tuesday when Russia and China blocked an attempt by Western nations to introduce a resolution on Iran's nuclear defiance at a meeting of the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog based in Vienna. The dispute reflected the often-contentious relations between Western powers on the one side and Russia and China on the other about how to deal with Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and to meet other UN Security Council demands. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman said the sanctions were not adequate, but "it is the most that could be achieved at this moment in time." "This is quite substantial, that it makes Iran very worried and puts a lot of pressure on the Iranian economy," said Gillerman. "This is another step in the right direction." At a press conference on Tuesday, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who is serving as president of the Security Council this month, said the resolution was exclusively economic. "Nobody said a single word about the use of force in any discussions in the Security Council," said Churkin. "Moreover, this resolution goes on to say that should Iran fail to comply, the council will consider further measures under Article 41. It clearly makes sure that there is no indication of any willingness to sanction use of force against Iran to deal with the issue." Gillerman acknowledged that if there were to be an armed response to Iran, it would not come from the UN, but that the resolution "leaves all options on the table." But Iran was still not pleased. "This resolution is contrary to the spirit and articles of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has been issued based on political motivations and a biased approach. It is worthless and unacceptable," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Ali Hosseini was quoted as saying by Iran's official news agency IRNA. He said the sanctions would "have no impact on the resolve and determination of the Iranian nation and government to fulfill its legitimate rights in continuing its peaceful nuclear activities within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that Teheran's response meant the Security Council had taken appropriate action. "That shows that they don't like what has happened, which means that we've done the right thing, because they are in violation of two previous resolutions and we have to do something that indicates displeasure and causes more pressure on them," Khalilzad said. In an attempt to keep up pressure on Iran, Britain, France and Germany had hoped to present a resolution before the IAEA board, which is currently meeting in Vienna, that highlighted Teheran's nuclear defiance. A draft of the resolution made available to The Associated Press called on IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to continue investigations into the purported nuclear weapons-related experiments. Russia and China voted for the new UN sanctions on Monday, but the language of the resolution was softer than the US, Britain and France would have liked. "This illogical, illegal behavior by the Security Council not only won't help resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, but it will make the issue more complicated," IRNA quoted Muhammad Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying. Soon after diplomats at the Security Council ended their vote on Iran on Monday, they met a second time in a closed-door session to discuss a Libyan draft resolution that condemns Israel for the fighting in Gaza. American diplomats had proposed significant amendments to the draft on Saturday night, when it was first presented. The Arab group will meet again on Wednesday to discuss the draft, but they are not expected to accept the changes, which seek to place responsibility on Hamas. The draft was presented at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, which resulted in a separate statement on the situation that urged both sides to cease "all acts of violence." Though not a formal resolution, the statement also stressed that the violence "must not be allowed to deter the political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at establishing two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security." From the outset, the council decided against issuing an "official statement," said Churkin. At the press conference Tuesday, he explained the informal nature of the statement was in part because prior efforts at obtaining a consensus on such statements have failed. Churkin praised the statement, saying that "for the first time in a long while, the Security Council came out with joint summary, which calls on all parties to end violence." "The mood in the council indicated a strong willingness to preserve the spirit of working very hard to come up with a joint approach," said Churkin. "That signal was sent, which is something of an achievement." About the draft resolution, Gillerman said there were "no two sides" to this issue. "There is the terrorist side that indiscriminately tries to kill. There is one side, and that side can make sure it stops if Kassams stop." But Gillerman said he recognized a change in the Security Council chambers, where the delegates increasingly "realize Israel has the right to defend itself." AP contributed to this report.