September 24, 2012 | The Jerusalem Post

‘UK, France, Germany Urge EU to Up Iran Sanctions’

September 24, 2012 | The Jerusalem Post

‘UK, France, Germany Urge EU to Up Iran Sanctions’

Britain, France and Germany called on the European Union to impose fresh sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, AFP reported late Sunday, citing diplomatic sources.

An EU diplomat told the French news agency that the foreign ministers of the three countries wrote to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton calling for tougher steps against Iran.

The move comes ahead of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address to the United Nations General Assembly this week. The Iranian president, whose second and final term in office ends next year, has used previous UN speeches to defend a nuclear program he insists is peaceful and to make verbal attacks on Israel, the US and Europe.

“It is necessary that we sharpen the sanctions,” AFP quoted a second western official as saying. The official confirmed the request by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

“We think there is still time for a political solution, a diplomatic solution, and this is what we are working for. But we cannot accept nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran,” said the official.

Both diplomats were speaking to AFP on the condition of anonymity.

Earlier Sunday, Westerwelle reiterated Merkel's position, stressing that the Federal Republic seeks a negotiated solution to the nuclear crisis, while conceding that international talks with Iran have not been substantial.

In an interview with Die Welt am Sonntag, Westerwelle said everything possible must be done “to prevent war between Iran and Israel. We want a political and diplomatic solution” and a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable.

The foreign minister added that the Islamic Republic’s work on nuclear weapons threatens more than the security of Israel. If Tehran develops nuclear weapons, it would set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, he said.

Asked by Die Welt am Sonntag journalists if the window had closed for negotiations with Iran, Westerwelle answered, not yet.

“I personally told Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and Defense Minister [Ehud] Barak a few days ago in Jerusalem that, on the one hand, we understand the concerns of Israel for its security. On the other hand, I advised [them] to seek a political solution from the international community,” he said.

Westerwelle noted that the negotiations with Iran are not substantial and that is why he, British Foreign Minister William Hague and France’s top diplomat, Laurent Fabius, sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, asking that the EU prepare a new round of sanctions.

In contrast to Netanyahu’s severe doubts about the efficacy of sanctions, Westerwelle said that “sanctions are showing an effect.”

He declined to delineate red lines that would trigger greater action to rope in Iran’s nuclear program. In sharp contrast to the Dutch and the British, who have retained the military option against Iran’s recalcitrant position, the German foreign minister rejected military action.

Asked about German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière’s statement that Israel’s right to strike Iran is legitimate but not wise, Westerwelle said the Merkel administration is working on a diplomatic solution.

Germany has refused to break diplomatic relations with Iran and is considered one of the weak links in the European effort to include Hezbollah in the EU terror list. It also remains Iran’s largest European trade partner, with an annual bilateral trade volume hovering around 4 billion euros.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal and his British counterpart Hague have both urged the EU to ban Hezbollah, which is viewed as Iran’s long arm within Europe.

The number of Hezbollah members in the Federal Republic rose from 900 in 2010 to 950 in 2012.

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