WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama announced tougher sanctions on Iran’s energy sector and banks July 31, on the eve of U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta’s arrival in Israel.
Panetta was in Israel for a short working visit with Israeli officials to discuss U.S.-Israel defence ties and the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Panetta met with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.
Before his meeting with Barak, Panetta told reporters, “We are a friend, we are a partner, we have – as the defence minister has pointed out – probably the strongest U.S.-Israel defence relationship that we have had in history.
“What we are doing, working together, is an indication not only of our friendship but of our alliance to work together to try to preserve peace in the future.”
After Panetta’s meeting with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s Office released a text of the two men’s statements.
In his remarks, Netanyahu said that more forceful steps are urgently needed to deter the Iranian nuclear project. “Unfortunately… neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet had any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. America and Israel have also made clear that all options are on the table. You yourself said a few months ago that when all else fails, America will act.
“But these declarations have also not yet convinced the Iranians to stop their program.
However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them. Right now, the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.”
Panetta emphasized the U.S. administration’s resolve to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“I want to reassert again the position of the United States, that with regards to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period. We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen. I want you and the people of Israel to know a few things that have not and will not change. The United States stands firmly with Israel, and we have a rock-solid commitment to the security of Israel and to the security of its citizens. And make no mistake: we will remain determined to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
White House officials agreed with Netanyahu’s assessment that sanctions have not set back Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, but they counselled patience.
“We completely agree with the prime minister’s assessment that Iran has failed to make that choice and that is absolutely a disappointment,” White House spokesperson Jay Carney said Aug. 1.
During a meeting earlier last week with Mitt Romney, the presumed U.S. Republican presidential nominee, Netanyahu expressed skepticism about the sanctions.
“We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota,” he told Romney.
The Obama administration has been making the case for months to Netanyahu that he should delay any plans to strike Iran until it exhausts peaceful options.
Asked about Netanyahu’s comments, Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, also agreed with the Israeli leader.
“We continue to be dissatisfied, as Prime Minister Netanyahu is, with Iran’s continued failure to live up to its international obligations,” he said.
Rhodes said, however, that the sanctions were having a dire impact on Iran’s economy and suggested more time was needed to assess whether they would move Iran’s leadership to agree to terms for greater transparency about its nuclear activities.
“What we see today is not just a unified international community, but you see sharp divisions within the Iranian political system, far more so than we have seen in many years,” Rhodes continued. “And I think that is a testament to the pressure that they’re under.”
Rhodes said that what the Obama administration has accomplished “is a steady ratcheting up the pressure that is increasing the cost for the Iranians in failing to make the right decisions. And until they do shift course, we will continue to look for ways to increase the impact.”