Two senior U.S. officials will come to Israel next week to discuss plans for new sanctions on Iran in response to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report on its nuclear program. Washington hopes to mobilize the European Union and other developed countries to blacklist Iran’s central bank.
Blacklisting the central bank, which essentially means banning all business with it, would deal a severe blow to Iran’s economy, its banking system and the stability of its currency.
According to Israeli officials, the Americans who will visit Israel next Monday and Tuesday are David Cohen, under secretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, who is charge of America’s economic sanctions on Iran, and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides. They will meet with a host of Israeli government, army and intelligence officials.
From Israel, Cohen will proceed to the United Arab Emirates for similar talks. Dubai serves as a key conduit for Iran’s trade, which totals more than $20 billion a year. Last week, Cohen was in Rome, Paris, London and Berlin to discuss a new round of sanctions with European officials.
The United States is also discussing new sanctions on Iran with Russia and China, but both countries remain adamantly opposed. That means there is little chance of additional sanctions being approved by the UN Security Council, where both countries wield vetoes.
Washington is therefore focusing on mobilizing a “coalition of the willing” to impose new sanctions unilaterally. It hopes this coalition will include Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and more. If all these countries blacklisted Iran’s central bank and imposed new restrictions on its civil aviation and shipping, this would create real pressure on Tehran, U.S. and European officials said.
On Wednesday, Israel released its first official response to the IAEA report.
“The IAEA report corroborates the position of the international community, and of Israel, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons,” read a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office. “The significance of the report is that the international community must bring about the cessation of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, which endanger the peace of the world and of the Middle East.”
The Foreign Ministry also launched a major campaign to urge other countries to impose new sanctions on Iran, telling all Israeli ambassadors to make this a top priority.
Iran predictably rejected the IAEA report, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday vowed in an interview with state television that Iran wouldn’t retreat “one iota” from its nuclear program. But he denied that it seeks nuclear weapons, and said the IAEA was discrediting itself by siding with “absurd U.S. claims.”
Tehran also kept up its threats against an Israeli military strike: Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri on Wednesday told the Iranian television station Alalam an Israeli attack would lead to its “destruction,” adding, “If pillars of smoke rise from our nuclear facilities, a similar drama could be seen in other regions as well.” Nor would Iran’s response “be limited to the Middle East,” he said.
But opposition figures said the government is divided over what to do next, and some of Ahmadinejad’s critics accused him of deliberately inflaming the nuclear issue to distract attention from his own political woes.
Nevertheless, they said, they did not foresee either significant new sanctions – given the Russian and Chinese opposition – or military action against Iran.
Indeed, while China declined comment on the IAEA report on Wednesday, saying it was still studying it, the Russian foreign ministry flatly ruled out new sanctions, calling the report a “biased” compilation of well-known facts intended to “juggle” public opinion.
“Any additional sanctions against Iran would be perceived by the international community as an instrument for regime change in Tehran,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov explained to the Interfax news agency.
In July, Moscow unveiled a plan for renewed Iranian negotiations with the IAEA, and it is expected to hold intensive discussions with Tehran in the coming days.