Livni urges Obama not to talk to Iran

Livni urges Obama not to talk to Iran

Nov. 6, 2008
Jerusalem Post staff and AP , THE JERUSALEM POST

US President-elect Barack Obama should not talk to Iran just yet, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Thursday, warning that such dialogue could project “weakness.”

“We need to fight extremism,” Livni said as she stood next to visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a joint press conference in the home of the American ambassador to Israel.. “We need to continue the pressure on Iran and I believe that the idea of continuing the pressure comes with more intense and effective sanctions on the Iranians.”

Although she described Obama’s election as “a source of inspiration to millions around the world,” and congratulated him on his “historic victory,” her comments marked a first sign of disagreement with the incoming American administration. Obama has stated a willingness to talk to Iran about its nuclear program without condition, telling The Jerusalem Post in July that he would engage “in tough, direct talks” with Teheran.

His policy marks a departure from that of the Bush administration, which has refused to engage Iranian leaders.

Earlier on Thursday, Livni said in an interview with Israel Radio that Obama is not willing to accept a nuclear Iran. But “dialogue at this time is liable to broadcast weakness,” the Kadima leader cautioned. “I think early dialogue at a time when it appears to Iran that the world has given up on sanctions could be problematic.”

Obama says direct diplomacy with Iranian leaders would give the US more credibility to press for tougher international sanctions.

He has said he would step up diplomatic pressure on Teheran before Israel feels compelled to launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

In an interview during his visit to Israel in July, Obama told the Post that “I will do everything in my power as president to prevent Iran attaining nuclear weapons. And I think that begins with engaging in tough, direct talks with Iran, sending a clear message to Iran that they shouldn’t wait for the next administration but should start engaging in the P5 process [involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council] that’s taking place right now, and elevating this to the top of our national security priorities, so that we are mobilizing the entire international community, including Russia and China, on this issue.”

He added that “One of the failures… of our approach in the past has been to use a lot of strong rhetoric but not follow through with the kinds of both carrots and sticks that might change the calculus of the Iranian regime. But I have also said that I would not take any options off the table, including military.”

If the Iranians failed to respond positively to clear, direct and urgent diplomacy, he went on, then “we’ve stripped away whatever excuses they may have, [and] whatever rationales may exist in the international community for not ratcheting up sanctions and taking serious action.”

Asked whether he would support an Israeli strike at Iranian facilities in the coming months if Israel felt it had no choice but to act, Obama said: “My goal is to avoid being confronted with that hypothetical. I’ve said in the past and I will repeat that Israelis, and Israelis alone have to make decisions about their own security. But the grave consequences of either doing nothing or initiating a potential war with Iran are such that we want to do everything we can, to exhaust every avenue to avoid that option.”

Israeli military officials have said Iran could have the capacity to produce a bomb as early as next year.

Livni has repeatedly said she hopes international diplomacy prevails. But she doesn’t rule out force if UN sanctions don’t pressure Teheran to scale back its nuclear aims. In June, she said Iran “needs to understand the military threat exists and is not being taken off the table.”

IAF planes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi reactor in 1981. But policy-makers and experts are at odds over whether Israel could cripple Iran’s nuclear program, whose facilities are scattered and in some cases built underground in heavily fortified bunkers.

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