Israel Says Decision on Iran Attack ‘Far Off’

Posted January 18th, 2012 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says any decision about a preemptive Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program is “very far off.”

Barak spoke Wednesday, a day before U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey is to visit 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.

Israel and the U.S. agreed this week to postpone major joint missile defense exercises scheduled for April. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman cited “diplomatic and regional…tensions and instability” as factors in the delay.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday a military strike on Iran would be a “catastrophe” and would inflame tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites in the region.

Lavrov also said sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and European Union appear designed to hurt the Iranian economy 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.

EU foreign ministers are set to finalize a proposed crude oil embargo on Iran to begin July 1 when they meet Monday in Brussels.

The EU also is likely to ban imports of Iranian petrochemical products and exports of key technology intended for Iran's petrochemical industry. An EU oil embargo would deprive Iran of vital foreign currency income.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. military is “fully prepared” to deal with any Iranian effort to close the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for stronger international economic sanctions.

The U.S. Navy this month added a second aircraft carrier strike group in the Middle East. The U.S. also has military forces in nearby United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf nations.

Russia's Lavrov said an embargo 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.