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US, Israel up pressure for sanctions on Iran

(Reuters)
Filed on February 15, 2010

DOHA - The United States declared on Sunday it saw few alternatives to more sanctions on Iran, saying it sought a peaceful end to a nuclear standoff but did not want to engage diplomatically “while they are building their bomb”.

With military experts warning of the risks of any military action, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran to reconsider ‘dangerous policy decisions’ on its nuclear programme.

“Iran leaves the international community little choice but to impose greater costs for its provocative steps,” Clinton told a U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar.

“I would like to figure out a way to handle it in as peaceful an approach possible, and I certainly welcome any meaningful engagement, but ... we don’t want to be engaging while they are building their bomb,” Clinton said.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that Iran was now able to enrich uranium to more than 80 percent purity, close to levels experts say would be needed for a nuclear bomb, although he denied it had any such intention.

A new round of U.N. sanctions would require the consent of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, both of which have been less inclined to impose them in the past.

Vice President Joe Biden expressed optimism that China might agree. “We have the support of everyone from Russia to Europe. And I believe we’ll get the support of China to continue to impose sanctions on Iran to isolate them,” he told NBC TV.

Clinton is due to visit Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah on Monday, continuing her tour to seek Arab countries’ backing for action against Iran and support for talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. officials have hinted that one way Saudi Arabia could help diplomatically would be to offer China, a major consumer of Iranian crude, guarantees it would meet its oil requirements, a step that might ease Beijing’s resistance to new sanctions.

MOSCOW

Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel which says its existence would be threatened by a nuclear armed Iran, said he would urge Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, when they meet in Moscow on Monday, to back “crippling sanctions”.

An aide said these should “target Iran’s refined petroleum imports”. Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, lacks domestic refineries and imports some 40 percent of its gasoline. Russia indicated it would not oppose tougher sanctions, after Iran said it was enriching uranium to greater purity.

But in a move that will concern Israel, a leading member of Russia’s Security Council said sanctions were no reason to stop it shipping an order of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

“This deal is not restricted by any international sanctions, because the talk is about deliveries of an exclusively defensive weapon,” Vladimir Nazarov, deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said ahead of Netanyahu’s visit.

On another diplomatic tack, Turkey’s foreign minister will travel to Tehran to see if he can salvage a U.N.-brokered deal, getting Iran to swap its low enriched uranium for uranium that has been enriched to a higher level abroad.

Turkey has offered itself as a third country where the uranium could be exchanged. Although the proposal remains officially on the table, a senior diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency told Reuters it was “all but dead” given the profound mutual mistrust.

Playing down the idea of a pre-emptive Israeli strike on Iran, U.S. military chief Admiral Mike Mullen, told reporters on a visit to Tel Aviv he thought that was a very risky option.

“I worry a great deal about the unintended consequences of a strike,” he said, referring to Iran’s threats to retaliate against Israel and U.S. sites in the Gulf. “I think the Iranians are very difficult to predict.”

Clinton told the Doha conference she favoured a peaceful outcome but said Iran had shown no interest in serious talks about its nuclear program — something Tehran says it has every right to pursue.


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