‘US to step up pressure on Iran, seek direct talks’

‘US to step up pressure on Iran, seek direct talks’

Washington wishes to reassure Israel in wake of Rouhani’s election, but also wants to sound out president-elect face to face, reports say

Heavy water reactor facility near Arak, Iran (photo credit: CC-BY nanking2010/Wikipedia/File)
Heavy water reactor facility near Arak, Iran (photo credit: CC-BY nanking2010/Wikipedia/File)

The US plans to up the pressure on Iran over its renegade nuclear program in the wake of the recent election of relative moderate Hasan Rouhani as president, and at the same time is seeking to enter into direct talks with the Islamic Republic on the issue, according to recent reports.

Immediately after Rouhani was elected on June 14, US officials held a series of discussions about Iran with aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, assuring Israel that economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure would not be relaxed, Haaretz reported on Sunday, citing senior US officials with knowledge of the talks.

Because Rouhani “looks friendlier toward the West” than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israel was afraid that “pressure on Iran will go down,” an anonymous official was quoted as saying. “It’s legitimate to be concerned, but we have told the Israelis we intend to judge the Iranians according to their actions and not according to their words. We need to see a meaningful change in the Iranian attitude… We will not ease the sanctions if Iran does not take action to stop 20 percent enrichment.”

Uranium enriched to 20 percent is necessary for nuclear weapons production, and Iran’s continuing program to enrich the radioactive material to this level has been a key sticking point in negotiations. The same US official said that sanctions would actually be increased and that the dire economic conditions that have been created in Iran were a key factor in Rouhani’s surprise electoral victory.

At the same time, the US is seeking to open direct talks with Iran, according to US sources cited by the Wall Street Journal.

The Obama administration is “eager to quickly test” Rouhani, who, despite some hard-line statements, has suggested through intermediaries that he seeks more transparency for Iran’s nuclear program and would be more open to international discussions and relations with the West than Ahmadinejad, Friday’s report said.

“We are open to direct talks, and we want to reinforce this in any way [we can],” a senior US official said, adding that the administration sees “words that indicate Iran might be going in a different direction.”

A meeting of the P5+1 negotiating countries (the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) is scheduled for Tuesday in Brussels to map out the countries’ diplomatic approach for the near future. The Western countries hope to schedule a new round of nuclear talks with Iran for September.

Meanwhile, Israel is planning to pressure the US to take a tougher stance with Iran because the government feels that the window for successful military action by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities could close as early as this winter, according to a report Friday on Channel 2.

Netanyahu is about to launch a fresh effort at “public diplomacy,” aimed at securing “increased pressure on Iran,” led by the US, notably including the revival of “a real military threat” if the Iranians don’t halt their nuclear drive, the TV report said.

If the prime minister’s effort fails, “Netanyahu will have to make a decision in the next few months” over “whether to attack Iran by winter.” The report stressed considerable support for a resort to military force within the cabinet, and concluded, “This could happen.”

Rouhani is scheduled to assume the Iranian presidency on August 3.

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