White House: Nuke talks ‘appropriate’ despite arms bust

Discussions to continue even though the US had its own plans to intercept Iranian-sponsored missile shipment to Gaza

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks during a news briefing at the White House, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks during a news briefing at the White House, Monday, January 13, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — Negotiations with Iran will continue as planned, even after the discovery of a weapons-laden ship traveling to Gaza from Iran, White House officials said Wednesday. While acknowledging that Iran is a major state sponsor of terrorism and implying that the US had also been willing to take action against the ship, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said that talks were still “appropriate” to try to reach a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program.

“Even as we continue efforts to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy, we will continue to stand up to Iran’s support for destabilizing activities in the region, in coordination with our partners and allies, and made clear that these illicit actions are unacceptable to the international community and in gross violation of Iran’s UN Security Council obligations,” Carney told reporters Wednesday.

Carney denied that there was any contradiction in the US policy of continuing nuclear negotiations while Iran was engaged in such activities.

“We continue to have enormous issues with Iran, its sponsorship of terrorist organizations, its bad behavior in the region that manifests itself in many ways. And we continue to take all the necessary steps to address those challenges. But it’s entirely appropriate to continue to pursue the possibility of reaching a resolution on the nuclear program,” Carney continued.

Israeli forces intercepted the “Klos-C” near Port Sudan early Wednesday morning. According to Israel, the Gaza-bound missile shipment had been tracked from Damascus to Iran and then to Iraq before being captured en route to the Hamas-controlled territory.

When naval commandos from the elite Shayetet 13 unit boarded and took control of the ship, soldiers found several dozen advanced Syrian M-302 missiles, with a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and a payload of up to 170 kilograms (375 pounds) hidden in shipping containers also carrying sacks of concrete.

Carney confirmed earlier reports that there had been very close coordination between the US and Israel regarding the vessel, through both military and intelligence channels as well as coordination between respective national security advisers.

According to Carney, “soon after becoming aware of the imminent movement of [the] suspected vessel, the White House directed the Department of Defense to monitor the vessel and to develop concepts of operation for a range of options to be prepared to take unilateral steps if necessary.”

Carney said that Washington’s “Israeli counterparts” “ultimately chose to take the lead in interdicting the shipment of illicit arms,” but did not explain why Israel and not America was the party responsible for the arms ship’s interception.

Even while the United States is an active participant in the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, administration officials have been explicit about Iran’s state sponsorship of terror activities.

Speaking Tuesday during a talk on global funding for terror, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told listeners at the Center for a New American Security that “Iran remains the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, planning terrorist attacks, providing lethal aid, and delivering hundreds of millions of dollars per year in support to extremist groups across the globe.”

Mere hours before the interdiction at sea, Cohen noted that “during the past several years, Iranian weapons shipments, reportedly destined for Shia militants in Bahrain and Huthi rebels in Yemen, have been interdicted by local authorities.”

Cohen said that “while we continue our negotiations with the Iranians concerning their nuclear program, we will not let up one iota in our efforts to disrupt Iran’s support for terrorism.”

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