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Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Penalties Succeeding Against Iran, Pentagon Chief Says
A global regime of punitive economic measures targeting Iran's atomic activities is proving effective and the nation seemingly remains open to negotiating an end to the long-running nuclear standoff, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in remarks reported on Monday by the Wall Street Journal (see GSN, July 30).
Panetta's assertion was an apparent bid to assuage doubts among top Israeli officials about waiting longer for dialogue on the issue to produce results, according to the Journal. The United States and Israel both suspect Iran of secretly pursuing a nuclear-weapon capability, and Tel Aviv has on multiple occasions alluded to a potential Israeli armed offensive to curb Tehran's nuclear efforts; Tehran insists its activities are a purely nonmilitary endeavor.
Tel Aviv so far does not seem to have committed to attacking Iranian atomic installations, the Pentagon chief noted in Tunisia ahead of a planned trip to Israel to discuss matters concerning Iran.
"The results of that (the sanctions) may not be obvious at the moment," but the measures are due for expansion and already are making a "serious impact," Panetta said.
"The fact is that they've expressed a willingness to try to negotiate," he stated. "And they continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution."
Washington would not "tolerate" an Iranian atomic arsenal and is ready to "exercise all options" to prevent such a development, Panetta added.
"What we all need to do is to continue the pressure on Iran economically and diplomatically, to take the right steps here to negotiate," he said.
Observers considered Panetta's statement to be a response to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's more confrontational remarks on the Persian Gulf regional power (see GSN, July 25; Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal, July 30). Romney said the "No. 1 national security threat" to the United States "is a nuclear Iran," CNN reported on Monday.
The former Massachusetts governor called for Washington to "keep a military option available" if economic penalties and attempts at dialogue fail to "dissuade them from becoming a nuclear-capability nation."
"I certainly hope that our military, under the direction of [President Obama], has, in fact, prepared a whole series of contingency plans, not only to [prevent] Iran from becoming nuclear but to respond were Iran to become more belligerent in its -- in its efforts," he added (Gregory Wallace, CNN, July 30).
Separately, Panetta dismissed press allegations on Tuesday that his trip to Israel would include talks on potential strike tactics against Iran, Reuters reported.
The Pentagon leader said he would address "various contingencies." Still, "it's the wrong characterization to say we are going to be discussing potential attack plans. What we are discussing are various contingencies and how we would respond," he added.
"We obviously continue to work on a number of options in that area, but the discussions that I hope to have with Israel are going to be more about what is the threat that we're confronting and to try to share both information and intelligence on that," Panetta said. "Both of our countries are committed to ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to that extent we continue to work together in the effort to ensure that Iran does not reach that point of developing a nuclear weapon" (Phil Stewart, Reuters, July 31).
Obama officials see "a shrinking window, but still a window nonetheless" for a compromise in the dispute, United Press International on Monday quoted White House spokesman Josh Earnest as saying.
"We're going to continue to work in coordinated fashion with the international community, including with the Israelis," Earnest said. "We ... have marched in lockstep with them, we've been side by side with them as they've confronted this threat, and will continue to be."
"All options do remain on the table," the official added. "But right now, what we're focused on is taking advantage of this diplomatic window that remains open to pursue a solution that satisfies the world community and results in the international -- in the Iranian regime living up to their international obligations" (United Press International, July 30).
Israeli General Staff head Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on Tuesday rejected press indications that he does not favor an armed campaign against Iranian atomic sites, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We tell the political echelon what we think and we will do what we are told,” Gantz said, responding to a Tuesday Yediot Aharonot newspaper report in which U.S. government personnel assert Gantz, intelligence head Tamir Pardo and air force leader Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel would disagree with such a move.
"None of the reports came from me,” Gantz added. “I am not in favor of discussing disagreements if there are such but I am in favor of telling the government what I think” (Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, July 31).
An Israeli news report on Monday said Iran's refinement of uranium has accelerated notably, according to Agence France-Presse (see GSN, July 25). The enrichment process can yield civilian atomic fuel as well as nuclear-bomb material.
"Iran has broken new records in terms of the pace at which it has been enriching uranium, and it has continued to race ahead so as to create as short a 'storming distance' as possible between it and the bomb," Israel's Maariv newspaper said.
Tehran's operation of "close to 10,000 centrifuges" with "a new type of centrifuge that is far more sophisticated" has helped to enable the faster refinement rate, the article states, basing its assertion on unidentified "intelligence reports" (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, July 30).
Iran now generates 507 pounds of low-enriched uranium on a monthly basis as well as 26 pounds of 20 percent-enriched material, Ynetnews.com reported on Monday. Washington and allied governments fear the higher-level enrichment -- ostensibly intended to fuel a medical reactor -- could enable faster preparation of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.
Iran now possesses 352 pounds of the higher-enriched substance, roughly 220 pounds short of the quantity necessary for a weapon if it is refined further, the report asserts.
The country's present refinement speed would expand that stockpile to 570 pounds by next January of February, placing the nation within two months of creating nuclear-weapon fuel sufficient for a bomb, according to Ynetnews.com (Ron Ben-Yishai, Ynetnews.com, July 30).
Meanwhile, lawmakers from the two houses of Congress on Monday compromised on legislation to intensify U.S. actions against Iranian insurers, power suppliers and cargo firms over Tehran's atomic activities, the Associated Press reported. The bill would enable punishment of any firm supplying the Middle Eastern nation with arms-related materials of concern, and it would hit National Iranian Tanker in a new bid to damage the country's ability to transfer petroleum to foreign buyers.
Any enterprises trading securities in the United States would be compelled under the legislation to disclose any Iran-linked transactions to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard would also be subject to penalties under the proposal.
“The bill sends a clear message to the Iranian regime that the U.S. is committed, through the use of sanctions, to preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) stated.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said if Iranian leaders fail to “come clean on their nuclear program, end the suppression of their people and stop supporting terrorist activities, they will face deepening international isolation and even greater economic and diplomatic pressure.”
The legislation excludes proposals to designate Iranian power operations as a "zone of proliferation concern" and essentially prohibit any related trade, but it includes a voluntary call for the White House to adopt relevant measures. In addition, the bill does not incorporate proposals by certain legislators to take action against overseers of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications and similar groups if they fail to cease support to the Iranian central bank.
The package is a “strong bill that fills numerous loopholes and tightens the sanctions requirements,” but “it could be a lot tougher,” Iran sanctions specialist Mark Dubowitz said (Associated Press I/New York Times, July 31).
Punitive efforts targeting Iran's petroleum industry are ironic because they restrict supplies of a scarce commodity, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.
"It's very funny. They (the West) use oil as a political weapon against a country that is an oil producer itself," he said. "This is among the most ridiculous behaviors."
"The ones that need oil use what they need as a tool to pressure (others)," said Ahmadinejad, who described the tactic as "political warfare."
"It takes a lot of insolence to be like that," he added.
Petroleum exports provide roughly four-fifths of Iran's income from abroad (Nasser Karimi, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, July 31).
Iran should end sales of unrefined petroleum to other nations, the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted the Iranian president as saying.
The "political situation" rather than "economic conditions" is shaping the cost of petroleum, Ahmadinejad asserted. "If not so, the real price of oil should have been very much higher in the market than what it is presently," he said (Islamic Republic News Agency, July 31).
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