Tehran weathering sanctions on oil industry, Netanyahu says
P5+1 vs Iran

Tehran weathering sanctions on oil industry, Netanyahu says

One day after EU imposes embargo, PM says sanctions are unpleasant, but 'not terrible'

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during her visit to Jerusalem in 2011 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during her visit to Jerusalem in 2011 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Sanctions on Iran are not having an especially potent impact on the Islamic Republic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, a day after an EU embargo on Iranian oil went into effect.

Netanyahu also called on the world to remain firm in talks with Iran on curbing its nuclear program.

In a closed session of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Netanyahu said Iran knew how to cope with sanctions on its oil industry: by dipping into the state’s financial reserves.

“At this stage the sanctions are on the level of not pleasant, but not terrible either,” the prime minister said.

On Sunday, the European Union set in place strict sanctions against Iran’s oil industry, a move Tehran acknowledged was taking a toll on the nation’s economy.

Sanctions are generally seen as the last bulwark to stop Iran’s nuclear program short of a military option.

Netanyahu’s statement came a day ahead of planned low-level talks between Iran and several world powers over the nuclear program.

The prime minister called on the so-called P5+1 group, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, to not give in to Tehran’s demands to be allowed to enrich uranium to the level of 20 percent.

Netanyahu added that the Islamic Republic is already enriching enough uranium for four bombs at the level of 3 percent. Iran would need to continue to enrich the uranium to 93 percent to reach weaponization.

After three unsuccessful rounds, nuclear talks between Tehran and the P5+1 broke down last month. No further date for a high-level meeting between was set, but on Tuesday technical experts from the six world powers and Iran are scheduled to meet in Moscow for lower level talks.

According to a statement from European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Tuesday’s meeting aims at providing “further clarification” of the P5+1’s proposal, an increase of the powers’ understanding of the Iranian response given in Moscow and to “study the issues raised by Iran during the sessions.”

“We hope Iran will seize the opportunity of this meeting to show a willingness to take concrete steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and to meet its international obligations,” Ashton said.

During a three-hour session of Knesset committee, Netanyahu said that during the last rounds of nuclear talks, the P5+1 powers had lowered their demands. Whereas originally they demanded Tehran stop enrichment at 3 percent, they now seem willing to accept that grade of enrichment, asking Iran only to cease enriching at 20 percent, the prime minister said.

“We say that the powers must demand now what they demanded in the past: no enrichment at over three percent,” he said.

“The Iranians are simply fooling the world,” Netanyahu added. “The Iranians do not detect any determination on part of the world powers to stop their nuclear project.”

Netanyahu also spoke about the ongoing violence in Syria, condemning the brutal crackdown on anti-government protests by President Bashar Assad.

“Iran and Hezbollah are in contact with Assad on a daily basis, to see what can be done to help him,” Netanyahu said. “Without the support of Iran and Hezbollah, which includes many fighters on the ground, I don’t believe Assad would be able to hold on.”

As of now, Israel has not yet been able to identify leaders of the Syrian opposition who could replace Assad, Netanyahu said. While the pressure on the Syrian president to step down increases, it is unclear what will happen on the day after, Netanyahu told the committee.

“We fear that advanced arms systems, including chemical weapons, could fall into the hands of Hezbollah, to global Jihad forces or al-Qaeda,” he said.

It is also possible, but rather unlikely, that Assad would use these kind of weapons against his own people “in an irrational way,” Netanyahu said.

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