Israel Presses U.S. Over Setting ‘Red Lines’ for Iran

The U.S. and Israel are disagreeing publicly over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push to set “red lines” and deadlines for dealing with Iran’s nuclear activities.

An Israeli government official said yesterday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comment in an interview Sept. 9 with Bloomberg Radio that the U.S. is “not setting deadlines” for Iran won’t help deter its nuclear program, and may even put the Iranians at ease.

The Israeli official, who wasn’t authorized to give his name, said in a telephone briefing that without clear red lines being set by the international community, Iran won’t stop enriching uranium.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday that it’s “not useful” to be setting deadlines for negotiations or red lines. President Barack Obama previously has said that Iran won’t be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, she said, declining to elaborate.

Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak have indicated that, as Iran proceeds with its nuclear work and negotiations stall, Israel may have no choice but to launch a preemptive strike in self-defense. Iran’s leaders have denied Israel’s right to exist.

Economic Sanctions

Clinton said in the interview that economic sanctions are building pressure on Iran, and the U.S. still considers negotiations as “by far the best approach” to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons.

Asked if the Obama administration will lay out sharper “red lines” for Iran or state explicitly the consequences of failing to negotiate a deal with world powers by a certain date, Clinton said, “We’re not setting deadlines.”

Netanyahu said Sept. 9 that the international community needs to send an unambiguous message. “Iran will not stop unless it sees clear determination by the democratic countries of the world and a clear red line,” he said.

Israel and the U.S. are now discussing this point, Netanyahu said in an interview with Canada’s CBC television.

“The clearer the message on these red lines is, the clearer it is to the Iranian leadership,” Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said on Israel Radio today. “Regretfully such a clear message hasn’t been sent by the U.S.”

Time Difference

While the U.S. and Israel share the goal that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon, Clinton said there is a difference in perspective over the time horizon for talks.

“They’re more anxious about a quick response because they feel that they’re right in the bull’s-eye, so to speak,” Clinton said. “But we’re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions, to do everything we can to bring Iran to a good-faith negotiation.”

At a State Department briefing yesterday, Nuland said the U.S. is in close consultation with Israel and cited previous remarks by Obama. “The president has said again and again, unequivocally, that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon,” she said.

The United Nations’ atomic agency convened a meeting yesterday in Vienna. U.S. officials say the talks will provide an important assessment of Iran’s nuclear progress and the pressure the international community should exert to halt it.

Gabi Ashkenazi, a former Israeli chief of staff, said Israel shouldn’t jeopardize ties with Washington. “I strongly recommend that we preserve our strong relationship with the United States. Our strong bond is not only imperative to us from a security perspective but also economically,” Ashkenazi said at a conference in Tel Aviv today.

Enrichment Capacity

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported last month that Iran raised the uranium-enrichment capacity at its underground Fordo facility and increased stockpiles of medium- enriched uranium, a step short of nuclear-bomb material.

In the past week, Clinton has been to China and Russia, speaking with leaders of both nations to seek unity in their Iran stance. Afterward, she said China and Russia share the U.S.’s firm view that Iran must be stopped from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The Obama administration still believes the best way to do that is to continue to offer a negotiated settlement, while increasing the pain for Iran of refusing to accept the deal by squeezing it with financial and oil sanctions, she said.

Uranium Stockpiles

In June, negotiators for six world powers proposed that Iran ship out its stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium -- to remove the potential that it will further be processed to 90 percent to fuel a nuclear bomb -- and to stop enrichment at Fordo in exchange for energy and aviation incentives. Israel wants all Iranian uranium enrichment halted and enriched uranium removed.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful electric power and medical purposes and has rebuffed any deal that it sees as giving up its right to enrich uranium.

Efforts by international negotiators “to pin Iran down on what exactly they are willing to do are still under way, and we will be having some meetings in the next month in New York and elsewhere to take stock of where we are,” Clinton said.

Leaders from the six powers involved in negotiations with Iran are expected to attend the annual UN General Assembly in New York this month.

Since April, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the U.S., the U.K., France, China and Russia -- plus Germany, have conducted three rounds of diplomacy with Iran. Even with pressure from new U.S. and European Union sanctions on energy, trade, banking and shipping, the talks have failed to persuade Iran to suspend aspects of its nuclear program.

Oil Dependence

Clinton has said that Iran, which depends on oil for more than half of its government revenue, is losing billions of dollars from lost oil sales due to sanctions.

Iranian oil exports dropped 66 percent in July from a year earlier, to less than 1 million barrels a day, as the U.S. and the European Union tightened sanctions, according to a report by Rhodium Group, citing customs data. Rhodium estimates exports at about 940,000 barrels a day, compared with 1.7 million barrels a day in June and 2.8 million in July 2011, the New York-based economic research group said Sept. 5 in an e-mailed report.

The U.S., European allies and Israel accuse Iran of seeking an atomic bomb capability. In its report last month, the IAEA said it “is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” The IAEA said it hadn’t detected any material being diverted from Iran’s 16 declared nuclear facilities.

To contact the reporters on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at ilakshmanan@bloomberg.net; Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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