Israel tries to jump-start calls for Iran nuclear sanctions

By Glenn Kessler and Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 2010; 7:15 PM

Israeli officials are beginning to signal impatience with the slow pace of diplomacy aimed at restraining Iran's nuclear ambitions.

In Jerusalem on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stressed the need for the international community to join a U.S. sanctions push aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program. He suggested the Iranian leadership's days could be numbered if it continues to seek nuclear capability.

"The stronger those sanctions are, the more likely it will be that the Iranian regime will have to choose between advancing its nuclear program and advancing the future of its own permanence," Netanyahu said. He added: "I think that the international community and the leading countries in the international community have to join the American effort. And Israel has been helping out with key countries and continues to do so."

Netanyahu's message is being reinforced by his deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon, who arrived in Washington on Tuesday for urgent meetings on Iran with senior State Department and White House officials, including Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns and White House nuclear expert Gary Samore.

Ayalon traveled to Washington to emphasize Israel's growing displeasure and nervousness with the sanctions debate at the U.N. Security Council, according to a senior Israeli official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive diplomacy.

The Obama administration had said that after a year of outreach to the Islamic Republic, it would get tough in 2010, promising "crippling sanctions" on Iran. U.N. sanctions were to be enacted quickly, followed by European Union sanctions and then even tougher unilateral sanctions by a group of like-minded countries. But Chinese objections have blocked action at the Security Council, and the United States has yet to float a draft resolution.

"We were led to believe that by now, or the end of the month, that sanctions would be in place," the Israeli official said. Now it appears sanctions might take till April, or even later. In May, Lebanon takes the rotating presidency of the Security Council, which would push any sanctions resolution until at least June. Moreover, he said, any sanctions resolution that will emerge from the process appears likely to be very weak.

During his visit, Ayalon wanted to begin discussing other options, such as beginning unilateral sanctions without waiting for the U.N. sanctions, the official said. "It is important to be decisive," the official said. "Iran is the litmus test" for American power, he said, and any failure to deal toughly with Iran will only encourage America's enemies.

Vice President Biden, in Israel on Tuesday, sought to allay Israeli concerns. "We're determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And we're working with many countries around the world to convince Tehran to meet its international obligations and cease and desist," he said.

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