Israel, US ramp up call for Iran sanctions

The United States and Israel are expected to press for tougher sanctions against Tehran after a report by the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog said Iran had worked for many years to develop nuclear weapons and may still be doing so.

But Iran immediately dismissed the International Atomic Energy Agency’s conclusions as the work of a US stooge.

Amid intense speculation in Israel over whether the government is moving towards a military attack on Iranian nuclear sites, Israel Radio said that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to demand that international pressure be increased on Tehran.

In Washington the White House suggested it would back more severe sanctions. The president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said the report’s findings should be used to build international pressure on Iran.

“We certainly expect [the report] to reflect the concern that this government and the United States, this president, have about Iranian behaviour, and to reinforce the need for the international community to act collectively to put pressure on and isolate Iran as long as it refuses to honour its international commitments with regard to its nuclear programme,” he said.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reacted furiously to the report, calling the IAEA’s director, Yukiya Amano, a tool of the US. “Unfortunately, there is someone in charge of the IAEA who not only has no authority, but tramples upon the IAEA laws and only echoes the US words,” he said hours before the report was made public.

Israel has long pressed for a regime of stringent sanctions, coupled with the threat of military action aimed at deterring Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Its hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is reportedly a recent convert to the merits of a military attack.

Lieberman called for “crippling sanctions” to follow the report. If the US failed to deliver, he was quoted as saying, “this will mean that the US and the West have accepted a nuclear Iran”. Iran’s central bank and oil, fuel and gas industries should be targeted, he said.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio: “We are probably at the last opportunity for co-ordinated, international, lethal sanctions that will force Iran to stop.” However, the Israeli government had not yet decided to embark on any operation, he said, pointing out: “We don’t want a war.”

There has been intense speculation in Israel in the past week that it may be preparing for a military strike after reports that Netanyahu and Barak were working to secure a majority within the inner Cabinet for action.

The speculation was fuelled by the test firing of a long-range ballistic missile and by Israeli airforce exercises at a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation base in Sardinia.

The White House has been careful to avoid belligerent rhetoric regarding Iran so far, fearing it will sound reminiscent of the Bush administration’s threats ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The administration says it favours a united international stand against Iran over unilateral action. But US President Barack Obama is under pressure from the Republican right, which accuses him of being soft on Tehran.

Russia and France have cautioned against military action. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Israel was using “dangerous rhetoric” that could lead to “a major war”. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said his government opposed military action because “it would seriously destabilise the region”. —

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Chris Mcgreal
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