Israel launches diplomatic offensive to counter US report
Fearing world will dissolve united front against Tehran after US releases report claiming Iran has frozen its nuclear program, Israel orders its diplomats to campaign for tightening sanctions against Islamic republic. Defense Minister Barak says Israeli intelligence counters US assessment
Israel will launch a diplomatic campaign aimed at tightening sanctions against Iran in response to the US claim that international pressure drove Iran to permanently freeze its nuclear program in 2003.
Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni briefed Israel's diplomatic corps before leaving for Slovenia for an official visit. "The world cannot accept a nuclear Iran. Tehran's adamant pursuit of a nuclear weapon has been proven and it is clear to all that it continues with its efforts to obtain this technology. The sanctions have proven effective and therefore we must increase and improve our efforts to tighten those sanctions," she said.
Officials in Jerusalem who confirmed the report late Tuesday night said Israel's chief concern at the moment was that the report would strengthen Russia and China's resolve against the UN-proposed third round of economic sanctions against Tehran. Both countries are permanent and veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council.
Israel fears that the visit will speed up the delivery of Russian-manufactured nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is scheduled to visit Moscow in the near future to strengthen ties and possibly nuclear cooperation with Russia.
Jerusalem officials were encouraged however by the announcement that US President George W. Bush would be arriving in Israel on January 9th for an official visit, his first since taking office. The visit will serve to, among other things, strengthen Israel and America's position on the importance of continuing to pressure Iran.
Barak: US got it wrong
"The bottom line is that words don't stop missiles, actions do," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday evening in response to the US report.
"And there is much that needs to be done regarding the Iranian nuclear program. We need to take action in applying sanctions, in exercising diplomacy and in other venues as well."
Israeli intelligence disputes the report's conclusion, Barak said, and still believes Tehran is still trying to develop a nuclear weapon: ''It's apparently true that in 2003 Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a time. But in our opinion, since then it has apparently continued that program. There are differences in the assessments of different organizations in the world about this, and only time will tell who is right."
Asked if the new US assessment reduced chances that the US will launch a military strike on Iran, Barak
said that was ''possible.''
However, he said, ''We cannot allow ourselves to rest just because of an intelligence report from the other side of the earth, even if it is from our greatest friend.''
US: Military option still on the table
Earlier in the day Bush said that the international community should continue to pressure Iran on its nuclear programs, saying Tehran remains dangerous despite the new report.
''I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program,'' Bush said. ''The reason why it's a warning signal is they could restart it."
Bush said the report's finding would not prompt him to take a US military option against Tehran off the table.
''To me, the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community - to continue to rally the community - to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program,'' the president said. ''What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program."
Hanan Greenberg, Yitzhak Benhorin and AP contributed to this report