Evidence shows Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, U.S. President Barack Obama told CBS on Friday, adding that he felt his administration should continue the pressure on Tehran to cooperate with the international community over its contentious nuclear program.
In an interview to "The Early Show" Friday, Obama said "all the evidence indicates" that Tehran is trying to get the "capacity to develop nuclear weapons."
With such a capability, Obama said that Iran could "destabilize" life in the Mideast and trigger an arms race in the region, adding that, for that reason, he felt "the idea here is to keep on turning up the pressure."
"We're going to ratchet up the pressure and examine how they respond but we're going to do so with a unified international community," Obama said.
The U.S. president had said earlier this week he wanted new, stronger U.N. sanctions to be in place by late spring. The president also said he believes the country has become further isolated from the rest of the world since he took office.
Obama's comment comes after, earlier Friday, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said after meeting China's foreign minister and other officials in Beijing that Iran and China agreed during talks in Beijing that sanctions are "not effective."
"In our talks with China it was agreed that tools such as sanctions have lost their effectiveness," Jalili told a news conference in the Chinese capital, speaking via a Chinese translator.
Asked if China backs sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, he said: "It's up to China to answer that."
Jalili also said that international sanctions would not prevent Iran from pursuing its nuclear activities. "Iranians are familiar with sanctions ... We consider sanctions as opportunities ... We will continue our [nuclear] path more decisively," Jalili said.
The United States and Israel, meanwhile, have both been making efforts to engage China in pursuing harsh international sanctions against Iran over the latter's contentious nuclear program.
The head of the Israel Defense Forces' Planning Directorate, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, will make an official visit to China next week to meet senior officials in the defense establishment there.
Eshel, who is in charge of strategic planning and foreign affairs for the Israel Defense Forces, is hoping to present the Chinese with Israel's view on Iran's drive toward nuclear military capability.
U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, held an hour-long telephone conversation with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday, in which he "underscored the importance of working together to ensure that Iran lives up to its international obligations," the White House said in a statement.
The head of Israel's Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, recently traveled to China and relayed to his hosts details of the Iran's progress toward nuclear arms.
The spokesman for the Chinese military, with a rank of brigadier general, visited Israel last week as a guest of his Israeli counterpart.
The Israel Defense Forces considers exchanges with China to be important in softening Beijing's opposition to international sanctions against Iran - which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons.
Last week China announced for the first time that it would consider going along with sanctions against Iran, even though its final decision will be made following talks in the UN Security Council over the substance of the resolution that will be brought for a vote.
In conversations with Israelis in recent weeks, Chinese officers and officials have made it clear that they both oppose Iran's drive to acquire nuclear arms, but also any military action to stop the Iranian program. The Chinese also said that they oppose targeting Iran's nuclear program through sanctions.
The Chinese opposition to sanctions was presented as a point of principle and was justified by the historic experience of the Communist regime in China, which suffered in its early decades as a result of Western sanctions.
U.S. and Israeli efforts are focused on convincing Beijing that the best alternative to preventing a nuclear Iran and a military operation targeting it would be to agree to more severe sanctions - without actively supporting these.
A successful effort to convince Russia, another permanent member of the Security Council, to support the sanctions would result in four of the five members voting in favor of tightening sanctions against Tehran, while Beijing would abstain and not veto the resolution.
China sells arms, equipment and advanced technology to the Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guard, which also make their way to Hezbollah. These include an anti-shipping missile that struck the Israeli gunship Hanit in July 2006.
A U.S. intelligence report on the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles in 2009 was delivered to Congress last week. The unclassified version concluded that the Chinese government has implemented, during the past two years, legislation that is meant to monitor the export of banned items, but enforcement is not complete.
"Chinese entities" continue to sell items "related to missiles" to many clients, including Iran, according to the report.
The improvement in IDF relations with China is striking in view of the cooling of ties between the U.S. and Chinese militaries during the past two months, as a result of the announcement of the Obama administration on January 30 of plans to sell arms worth $6.4 billion to Taiwan.
Even though the United States was careful to stress that the arms in the package are not offensive weapons - Blackhawk helicopters, Patriot air-defense missiles, and mine sweepers - the Chinese responded by freezing contacts between the militaries of the two powers.
The exchange of visits by senior officers from Beijing and Jerusalem also reflects the rebuilding of ties that were strained following the crisis over the cancelation of an early warning aircraft deal in 2000. The sale of the Phalcon radar that ELTA was to mount on a Russian-made Ilyushin IL-76 transport aircraft was vetoed by the Americans.
The U.S. concern then, as it is today, is that China will upgrade its military capabilities to operate far from home.
In recent years Israel has been careful to follow American guidelines and avoid exporting sensitive military equipment to China.
As a result of the cancelation of the deal, Israel was forced to pay China $350 million in compensation.
Talks with Chinese officers suggest that the effects of that crisis have been minimized but not entirely forgotten: One officer said that he was surprised to witness, on arrival at Ben-Gurion International airport, a test flight of the second of the three Phalcon early-warning aircraft that are being supplied to India. A $1.1 billion deal was signed in 2004 following the failed Chinese deal. The aircraft was delivered to India late last week.
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