Head of US Central Command says diplomatic efforts against Islamic Republic are useless, but it’s not too late to bring Iran ‘to its senses’; world powers convene for nuclear talks
Top US commander in the Middle East, General James Mattis, said the current sanctions and diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are not working. He said Tehran has a history of denial and deceit and is enriching uranium beyond any plausible peaceful purpose.
General Mattis, head of US Central Command, spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee and said that it may still be possible to use sanctions and other pressure to bring Tehran to its senses, however, he says Iran is using the negotiations to buy time.
Mattis was asked if the US can bring Iran to its knees, to which he said that the US still has a number of ways to do that, even short of open conflict.
Meanwhile, six world powers will call for quick tangible results in nuclear negotiations with Iran that have resumed after an eight-month break, according to a draft joint statement obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.
The draft, being considered by the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain, described last week’s talks with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan, as “useful”. The two sides are due to meet again in early April at the same venue.
“We seek tangible results in this diplomatic process at an early stage,” said the statement, expected to be delivered at a board meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday.
“We reaffirm our continuing support for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue,” it said.
It was unclear whether the statement, dated March 4, was the final version to be read out at this week’s meeting of the 35-nation governing board of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog.
It said the powers were “deeply concerned that Iran continues to undertake certain nuclear activities” contrary to UN Security Council resolutions, including recent steps to install more advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
The relatively mild language used in the one-page statement reflected an apparent compromise between the four Western states on the one hand and Russia and China on the other.
Moscow and Beijing have in the past criticized unilateral Western sanctions on Tehran, and have tended to be less harsh in their public statements.
On Monday, US Vice President Joe Biden said that President Barack Obama was not bluffing about using force to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions if all else fails, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a “credible military threat” against Tehran.
Iran denies Western and Israeli allegations that it is seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is an entirely peaceful project to generate electricity.
But its refusal to curb atomic activity that can have both military and civilian purposes, and its lack of full openness with UN inspectors, have drawn increasingly tough US and European punitive measures against the major oil producer.
Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy, which is convinced that the Islamic Republic is secretly trying to develop a nuclear weapon, has grown impatient with the protracted talks and has threatened pre-emptive war against Tehran if it deems that diplomacy has failed.
Iran was upbeat last week after talks with the powers in Kazakhstan about its nuclear work ended with an agreement to meet again. But Western officials said it had yet to take concrete steps to ease their fears about its atomic ambitions.
In Almaty, the six powers offered modest relief from economic sanctions in return for Iran scaling back its most sensitive nuclear activity, but made clear that they expected no immediate breakthrough.
The powers’ draft statement said they “take note of the useful meetings” in Almaty “to carry on a constructive diplomatic process, which will be pursued actively in the months ahead on the basis of reciprocity and step-by-step approach.”
The aim would be to restore “international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program”.
Separately, diplomats said Sweden was trying to weaken the tone of a separate statement on Iran by the 27-nation European Union, delaying agreement on this text.