Washington Promises Israel: More Pressure on Iran, Not Less

While Hassan Rohani's election considered a positive step, the U.S. 'intends to judge the Iranians according to their actions and not according to their words,' American officials tell Haaretz.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

WASHINGTON, D.C. − U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has assured Israeli officials that the United States will not ease pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear program following the election of Iranian President Hassan Rohani, U.S. diplomatic sources said.

Talks regarding Tehran’s nuclear policy are set to resume in September.

The U.S. assurances were conveyed during a series of consultations between American officials and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aides in Jerusalem following Rohani’s election.

Senior U.S. officials involved in the matter told Haaretz that the United States made clear to Israel that although it sees Rohani’s victory as a positive development, it will not ease the pressure on Iran unless Iran takes steps to demonstrate a “change in attitude.”

“The Israelis are afraid that because Rohani looks friendlier toward the West, the pressure on Iran will go down,” an American official said.

“It’s legitimate to be concerned, but we have told the Israelis we intend to judge the Iranians according to their actions and not according to their words. We need to see a meaningful change in the Iranian attitude,” he said.

The officials, who spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the United States informed Israel that it in fact intends to step up the pressure on Tehran. Officials cited as an example the new U.S. sanctions on trade with the Iranian currency that came into effect at the beginning of July. They added that the tough sanctions again Iran have caused serious damage to its economy and in fact contributed to Rohani’s election.

“We still have to see if Rohani is serious or not and we hope he will be under pressure to fulfill his campaign promises,” one official said.

“We will not ease the sanctions if Iran does not take action to stop 20 percent enrichment,” he said.

According to a senior Israeli official, Netanyahu and his aides were aware that the six powers − the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany − were planning to resume diplomatic talks with Iran following Rohani’s election. The official said Netanyahu and his aides have not ruled out the possibility that the move will include opening a direct line of communication between the United States and Iran.

The Americans are keen on establishing direct talks with Iran, whether as part of the talks with the six powers or at the same time, U.S. officials said.

In the past two years such messages have been conveyed to Iran publicly and secretly, but so far have not elicited a response.

“We won’t run after them,” an American official said. “They know what our position is and if they want to, we’d be happy to meet.”

On Tuesday senior diplomats from the states conducting the nuclear talks with Iran are scheduled to convene at the European Union headquarters in Brussels.

The meeting will be headed by Catherine Ashton, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Helga Schmid, vice president of the commission and deputy secretary general of the European Union, who are conducting the talks with the Iranians for the six powers.

The delegates have reportedly been encouraged by Rohani’s campaign statements in which he said Iran must improve its relations with the West and act to remove the international sanctions. However, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the exclusive authority on the country’s nuclear program.

Rohani is set to be sworn in as Iran’s president on August 3, and he will have two weeks to set up a new government and work with Khamenei to appoint a new negotiation team for the talks with the West.

The six powers have expressed interest in holding talks with Iran as soon as the beginning of September to examine how much leeway Khamenei will give Rohani when it comes to negotiations with the West.

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani attends Ramadan Friday prayer at Tehran University, July 12, 2013. Credit: AFP
Illustration by Haaretz.

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