Olmert to U.S.: Impose Naval Blockade on Iran
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proposed in discussions with the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, that a naval blockade be imposed on Iran as one of several ways to pressure Iran into stopping its uranium enrichment program.
Although the White House denied a published report that U.S. President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term in January, the Bush administration is said not to have ruled out entirely the possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
A story in the Jerusalem Post quoted an unidentified official as claiming that a "senior member" of Bush's entourage to Israel last week made the statement about attacking Iran in a closed meeting. However, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the article is "not worth the paper it's written on." She added that the administration's preference and actions for dealing with Iran remain through peaceful diplomatic means.
Israelis who spoke to Bush and his entourage while they were in Israel last week said they had the impression that the military option "is on the table," and that the president felt a sense of deep obligation to overcome the Iranian threat.
The Iranian issue was central in Olmert's meeting over lunch Monday with Pelosi, together with 12 other members of Congress in the bipartisan delegation Pelosi led. Among those present were House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, and heads of the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey and Gary Ackerman.
"The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves," Olmert told Pelosi, adding that the international community needed to take much more drastic steps to stop Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. Olmert also said there was a great deal of space between the present sanctions and military action. Aggressive action could be taken that was not violent, Olmert told Pelosi.
Olmert's suggestions mainly involved continued efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. Olmert proposed two possible courses of action: first, a naval blockade of Iran using the U.S. fleet to limit the movement in and out of Iran of its merchant ships.
The second option Olmert proposed was to place limitations on Iranian aircraft, business people and senior members of the regime at airports throughout the world. "Iranian businesspeople who would not be able to land anywhere in the world would pressure the regime," Olmert said.
Members of the American delegation also spoke about how to pressure Iran. Pelosi herself said at a press conference Monday that a whole series of moves were on the table to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status."
Livni: United front
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Pelosi at a meeting that "the effectiveness of the sanctions depends on a united front by the countries of the world." Livni added that when there are those who create commercial options for Iran, the efficacy of sanctions was reduced. "When Iran sees the foreign minister of Switzerland wearing a veil when she comes to to Ahmadinejad to sign an agreement, it concludes that the world is not united against it," Livni said.
Olmert is scheduled to fly to Washington in two weeks for another working meeting with Bush that will focus on the Iranian issue. During Bush's visit last week, he met with Olmert privately, as well as together with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to discuss the options for dealing with Iran's nuclear program.
Senior government officials in Jerusalem said they were satisfied with the talks and Bush's speech in the Knesset on Iran. They said they believed Bush would make good on his declarations.
Meanwhile, diplomats in Vienna said a new attempt by Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to probe allegations that Iran tried to make nuclear arms has failed. ElBaradei was said to have been hopeful a month ago when he announced a new attempt to investigate allegations that Iran has tried to make atomic arms. However, the diplomats told The Associated Press yesterday that Iran denies such activities.
Barak Ravid, Amos Harel