* Panetta says sanctions having impact on Iran
* Says U.S. will not tolerate Iran developing nuclear arms
By Phil Stewart
TUNIS, July 30 U.S. Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta said on Monday Western sanctions against Iran over its
nuclear programme were working even if the impact on
decision-making in Tehran was not obvious at the moment.
Panetta made his comments ahead of a visit this week to
Israel, which has said the sanctions had failed to stop Iran's
nuclear programme and warned that time was running out before
Iran achieves a "zone of immunity" in which Israeli bombs cannot
penetrate deeply buried uranium enrichment facilities.
Panetta, asked by reporters in Tunisia about concerns in
Israel over the effectiveness of sanctions, said they were
having a serious impact "in terms of the economy of Iran."
"And while the results of that may not be obvious at the
moment, the fact is that they have expressed a willingness to
try to negotiate with the P5+1, and they continue to seem
interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution," Panetta
said, referring to diplomatic efforts by the five permanent U.N.
Security Council members and Germany.
Widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a
nuclear arsenal, Israel is determined to stop hostile neighbours
acquiring weapons that it fears could be used to wipe out the
Talks between world powers and Iran to resolve the standoff
have so far failed to secure a breakthrough and U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton said in July that Iran's proposals so
far within the P5+1 talks were "non-starters."
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said
during a visit to Israel on Sunday that "any and all measures"
must be used to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
A top aide said Romney would support an Israeli military
strike if all options had been exhausted, but the candidate
himself balked at repeating that position.
Panetta, who would not directly comment on remarks by
Romney, said he and President Barack Obama had made clear that
the United States would not "tolerate an Iran that develops a
"And that we are prepared to exercise all options to ensure
that that does not happen. And I am not going to go into
specific descriptions of what those options are -- except to say
that we have a full range of options to deal with that
potential," he said.
Iran denies Western accusations of a covert agenda to
develop a nuclear weapon, insisting it wants to stockpile
enriched uranium solely to generate more electricity for a
rapidly growing population and radio isotopes for medical use.
Panetta's comments followed talks with leaders in Tunisia,
which Washington has held up as a model for democratic change in
the Middle East after a popular revolt forced autocratic leader
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country on Jan. 14, 2011,
touching off a wave of political unrest across the Arab world.
The North African country has since calmly elected its own
government, defying predictions it would descend into chaos.
Panetta commended Tunisia on that transition, and said he
discussed ways with its leaders to bolster its counter-terrorism
efforts, with an eye on al Qaeda's North Africa wing, AQIM.
"There are a number of efforts that we can assist them," he
said, citing, among other things, intelligence to help them
grapple with the threat. "And they expressed a willingness to
work with us on that."
(Editing by Diana Abdallah)