US readiness to talk to Iran notwithstanding, Steinitz urges immediate imposition of harsh sanctions.
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN WASHINGTONPublished: SEPTEMBER 16, 2009 00:27Advertisement
As the United States prepares to sit down with Iran next month, Israeli officials are intensifying their calls to immediately impose tough sanctions on Teheran as a more effective means of stopping its nuclear program.
While the United States is looking more seriously at sanctions, it has indicated such a move wouldn't come until the end of the year after efforts at diplomacy have had more time to run their course.
Senior US officials told Jewish leaders last week that they have become increasingly skeptical of the diplomatic path and want to lay the foundations for tough sanctions so that they would be ready to implement them if talks falter.
US President Barack Obama has spoken of reevaluating the approach to Iran at year's end.
But in the short term, the US has accepted a meeting with the Iranians as part of the P-5+1 multilateral framework that also includes Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Those talks are now scheduled for October 1.
That plan didn't keep Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close associate of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, from urging the imposition of harsh sanctions immediately and questioning the usefulness of such conversations.
"This is really the last moment to do something serious, something significant to stop the Iranians," he said at an appearance at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Tuesday. "The time is right now and we feel desperate about it. The people in Israel feel that maybe we're left alone."
When it came to America's current focus on talking to Iran - a decision he said was up to America - he told The Jerusalem Post, "I am quite skeptical about the capacity to change the Iranian policies, the Iranian behavior, without real pressure. Therefore from my point of view the question of talking or not talking, directly or indirectly, is less relevant. The most important thing is real pressure."
He suggested using financial measure to paralyze Iranian banking, as well as the possibility of an embargo on Iranian oil imports to achieve that pressure.
Despite being in a situation where "time is running out," Steinitz still advocated sanctions as the preferred course because they had some chance of changing Iranian behavior and deterring other Middle Eastern states from following Iran down the same nuclear path.
He also said serious sanctions would be important in reassuring the West that it did its "utmost" to stop Iran's nuclear program "before we - the US, the Western world, before somebody - has to consider the military option."
Steinitz made these points in conversations with his economic counterparts in Washington, as well as with senior US Middle East advisor Dennis Ross, while on a trip to the US capital this week. He also discussed the general improvement in the Israeli economy and efforts to improve the economic situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank, initiatives for which he told US officials Israel hasn't received adequate recognition.
"We are frustrated because it doesn't seem that we get any credit," he explained, complaining of US and European officials who instead merely call for a freeze on settlements. "On the one hand we are doing our best to make life easier for the Palestinians in the West Bank and at the same time being asked to make life harder for Jews in the West Bank."
Steinitz was in town along with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as part of a slew of high-level visits in recent days by Israeli officials to press Jerusalem's case on the Palestinian and Iranian issue.
Ayalon, visiting as part of the framework for the US-Israel strategic dialogue, expects that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will come to Israel in late October or early November as part of an upgrading of the dialogue.
He also spoke to US officials about the need to aggressively pursue sanctions on Iran and that any talks include time limits.
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