The United States is conferring with Israel about new sanctions planned against Iran should international negotiations this month fail to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, a U.S. official said on Monday, as Iran’s nuclear drive is scheduled to top the agenda when the U.N. atomic agency’s governors meet this week in Vienna.
The comment offered a strong hint that Washington is continuing to apply the brakes on any plan by Israel to attack Iranian nuclear facilities preemptively.
Israel has signaled increasing impatience with the lack of progress towards circumscribing the nuclear program during the negotiations, involving Iran, the United States and five other world powers. The third round of talks will be hosted by Russia on June 18-19.
“If we don’t get a breakthrough in Moscow there is no question we will continue to ratchet up the pressure,” David Cohen, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Haaretz newspaper during a visit to Israel.
The United States and European Union have already made clear they will stiffen sanctions should Iran pursue uranium enrichment, a process that can yield fuel for warheads though it insists the objective is civilian energy and medical isotopes.
Cohen stressed the depth of the U.S.-Israeli partnership, according to Reuters.
“We have today and over the past years had very close cooperation with the Israeli government across a range of our sanctions programs,” he said. “They are creative. They are supportive and we will continue to consult with the Israelis.”
Cohen made similar comments to Army Radio, a major Israeli broadcaster, during his 36-hour visit, when he was to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior security staff.
In a speech last week, Netanyahu said world powers must both beef up sanctions and demand an immediate end to all uranium enrichment by Iran, whose mid-level 20 percent purification has been the focus of earlier negotiations.
Israel is reputed to have the region’s only atomic arsenal and many international experts, including the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, have voiced doubt in the ability of its conventional forces to deliver lasting damage to Iran's distant, dispersed and well-defended nuclear facilities.
The Israelis have hinted that delaying Iran’s progress could justify a unilateral strike. Ensuing Iranian reprisals would risk drawing in the United States, which has not ruled out force against Tehran but is loath to launch a new military campaign in the Muslim world.
Iran’s suspected nuclear drive will top the agenda when the U.N. atomic agency’s governors meet this week in Vienna, aiming to get unlimited IAEA access to a key Iranian military base.
Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said new satellite imagery of the Parchin base near Tehran indicated “extensive activities” where there had been “virtually” none for years, according to AFP.
This “could hamper the agency’s ability to undertake effective verification” of the site, the IAEA warned.
The agency already sought access to Parchin -- where it believes suspicious explosives testing was carried out -- in two visits to Iran in January and February.
But this was denied, with Tehran arguing the site was not linked to its nuclear program so it need not allow inspections.
After a visit to Iran on May 21, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said he and chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili would soon sign a deal to resolve issues over Tehran's nuclear programme. But two weeks on, there is still no sign of it.
Last week, IAEA chief inspector Herman Nackaerts also showed delegations new satellite pictures of Parchin taken on May 25 that analysts say suggest cleanup activities at the military base.
Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20-percent purity, bringing Tehran consistently closer to producing 90-percent enriched uranium needed to make a bomb, is another matter of concern, according to Western powers.
Iran and the P5+1 powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- met in Baghdad on May 23-24 in a bid to ease tensions over Tehran’s suspected nuclear drive but little was achieved.
A further meeting was set in Moscow on June 18-19, before an EU oil embargo against Iran comes into force on July 1.
On Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed suspicions that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons as “based on a lie” and insisted that sanctions on his country were ineffective and only strengthened its resolve.
The meeting of the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors will be held behind closed doors, starting Monday, and is due to go on all week.