U.S. Demands Israel Crack Down on Illegal Iranian Pistachio Imports

Pistachio nut imports reaching Israel indirectly via Turkey, circumventing ban on Iranian imports.

American officials are urging Israel to crack down on Iranian pistachio nut imports which are reaching Israel via Turkey despite a ban on Iranian imports into Israel.

U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Keenum said in a meeting with Israeli officials in Rome on Monday that the pistachio imports must stop, a U.S. official confirmed Wednesday.

"This causes great anger, especially since pistachios succeed in coming in through a third country," Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon told Israel Radio.

Both the U.S. and Israel have been pushing for new UN sanctionsto persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program which Iran insists is only aimed at energy production and not military use. "This has to do with the sanctions but also with the competition between American farmers and Iranian farmers, and we are trying to deal with this," Simhon added.

Simhon said a recent meeting with a senior U.S. agriculture official focused on using technology to detect the origin of pistachios. He said that would involve chemical testing to determine the climate and soil of where the nuts were grown. California is the second largest producer of pistachios in the world, according to the former California Pistachio Coalition. Iran is first.

In the mid 1990s U.S. officials pressured Israel to block the import of Iranian nuts coming through EU member states and winding up in Israel. Tensions have heightened since Iran began pursuing nuclear technology, as the U.S. has pushed the UN to implement new economic sanctions against the country until it gives up the program.

"As a proud native of the golden state (California), I think Israelis should eat American pistachios, not Iranian ones," said Stewart Tuttle, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

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