Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says any decision about a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program is “very far off.”
Barak was speaking Wednesday a day before U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey visits Israel to discuss security issues including U.S. and Israeli concerns that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.
Israel and its key ally the United States have not ruled out using military force to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb. But, U.S. officials publicly have been urging Israel to avoid unilateral action and give more time for diplomatic pressure and sanctions on Iran to work.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday a military strike on Iran would be a “catastrophe” and inflame tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites in the region. Iran is predominantly Shi’ite while its Gulf Arab neighbors are majority Sunni and resent what they see as Iranian ambitions to become a regional power.
Lavrov also said unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and European Union appear designed to hurt the Iranian economy and provoke discontent rather than achieve the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. Russia has supported several rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran in recent years but says it will not approve any more.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Wednesday Madrid will support a proposed EU embargo on Iranian oil exports. EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the plan on Monday in Brussels.
Spain secures about 20 percent of its oil imports from Iran through two Spanish energy companies. Garcia-Margallo said the companies, Repsol and Cepsa, assured him they can cope with the “huge” impact of the proposed embargo once they find alternate sources of supply. He also said Spain wants to delay the start of the embargo to July 1 so that existing Iranian oil contracts can be completed.
Lavrov says an EU oil embargo also could hurt the chances of renewing negotiations between major powers and Tehran about the Iranian nuclear program. Iran is preparing to host a delegation of senior U.N. nuclear officials later this month to discuss their concerns about suspected military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear work.
No date has been set for new talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, a group known as the P5+1. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Wednesday any new negotiations likely would be held in Istanbul. The P5+1 last met with Iran a year ago, also in Turkey, but the talks ended without agreement.
An EU ban on Iranian oil imports would deprive Iran of vital foreign currency income. In a report Wednesday, Iranian news agency ISNA said Iran’s national currency, the rial, weakened to a record low of 18,000 to the dollar in black market trading.