WASHINGTON - The United States and its allies are discussing economic sanctions on Iran without the United Nations' support, The Financial Times reported Monday, amid concerns that Tehran is accelerating its nuclear program, which European diplomats believe may increase the chance for an Israeli military response.
A European diplomat told the newspaper that "as we go along 2009, you're going to hear more and more about it (a possible Israeli strike on Iranian facilities)." He added there was a growing consensus that Tehran could have sufficient fissile material for a bomb by the end of next year.
The Financial Times reported that Dennis Ross, US presidential hopeful Barack Obama's senior adviser on the Middle East, was one of the writers of a report by a Washington-based think-tank, warning that "the Europeans make war more likely if they do not strengthen sanctions against Iran."
The report backs an intensive diplomatic effort, but also calls for immediate military steps to deal with Iran, such as "pre-positioning additional US and allied forces, deploying additional aircraft carrier battle groups and minesweepers (and) emplacing other war materiel in the (Gulf) region".
The European diplomat said that, in light of concerns, EU countries and the US were planning to impose sanctions on Iran's energy sector as "like-minded countries" - rather than through the UN - and were discussing targeting exports of engineering products for Iranian refineries as well as refined oil itself.
He said that after a largely empty UN resolution this month, Western countries had concluded that "if there is another (resolution), it will take a lot of time and there will be very little substance in it."
Limited refining capacity
Another western diplomat said that "the idea would be to get together a coalition of the willing . . . given the difficulties we would have getting this past Russia and China (in the UN).
"Iran has a limited refining capacity, so they rely on petrol imports . . . We are therefore working on targeting investment in the Iranian refinery industry," he noted, adding that measures, which might also target the financial sector, could be agreed in early November.
"You would try and stop investment in new projects inside Iran, preventing extraction and transportation," he said.
According to the Financial Times, Iran meets about one-third of its petrol needs through imports, estimated to cost more than $10 billion this year.
Israel, which is not directly involved in the sanction discussions, has been calling on the US, France, Britain and Germany to impose painful sanctions on Tehran in order to prevent the need for military action.
Israeli sources estimate the energy-related sanctions will force the Iranian regime to raise the subsidized fuel prices significantly, leading to disruptions in everyday life in Tehran.