American officials briefed Israel this week on the administration's ideas for intensifying sanctions against Iran if it fails to respond to President Barack Obama's offer of dialogue.
U.S. National Security Advisor James Jones, who is now in Israel to discuss Iran's nuclear program, indicated that Tehran has until the UN General Assembly in the last week of September to respond. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a similar message during his visit here earlier this week. If no satisfactory answer is received, the Americans said, they would work to form an international coalition to impose harsh sanctions on Iran.
A senior source in Jerusalem said the American message to Israel in these talks was to "lower its profile" and refrain from "ranting and raving" about Iran in public until the international evaluation on Iran takes place at the end of September. "Until that date, we must give diplomacy a chance," the official said.
New sanctions would mainly aim to significantly curb Tehran's ability to import refined petroleum products. Despite its huge crude oil reserves, Iran has only limited refining capacity, so it imports large quantities of refined products such as gasoline.
Jones and his team reported that a bill by Senator Joe Lieberman to curb sales of refined oil products to Iran is almost complete, and 67 senators have already signed it.
The Americans are proposing financial sanctions such as banning insurance on trade deals with Tehran, which would make it difficult for Iran to trade with other countries. They also want to impose sanctions on any company that trades with Iran and use this to pressure other countries, mainly in Asia, to resist making deals with Iran.
In the next stage, the Americans will consider even harsher sanctions, such as banning Iranian ships from docking in Western ports and, as a next step, banning Iranian airplanes from landing in Western airports.
The talks were held Wednesday and Thursday. The Israeli team was headed by National Security Advisor Uzi Arad and included Mossad head Meir Dagan, Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, director of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission Dr. Shaul Horev, and other defense and Foreign Ministry officials.
Jones and his team - including the president's special advisor Dennis Ross, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, and Gary Seymour, the White House official in charge of arms control and nonproliferation, who is a close friend of Arad's - also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
On Tuesday night, when Jones arrived, Arad held a reception for him at the David's Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.
Jones and his team presented the ideas that the administration is forging, together with France, Britain and Germany, on imposing additional sanctions on Iran via the UN Security Council if the dialogue fails. The Americans are also discussing this issue with Russia, which at this stage objects to further sanctions.
China, which has numerous interests in Iran, also objects to further sanctions. Jones told the Israelis that Obama will therefore go to China soon to try to enlist Beijing to join the coalition.
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