June 3, 2011 / 5:49 PM / 9 years ago

Israel says Iran sanctions track could work

VIENNA (Reuters) - Sanctions have a chance of preventing Iran becoming a “military nuclear country” if the economic and political pressure on Tehran is stepped up further, a senior Israeli official said on Friday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony to mark the death anniversary of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at his tomb at Tehran's Behesht-Zahra cemetery June 3, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

There has been persistent speculation in recent years that Israel may take military action against nuclear facilities in Iran — whose atomic activities the Jewish state sees as an existential threat — to stop it from obtaining such arms.

Iran denies accusations it is developing nuclear weapons and says its program is aimed at generating electrical power. Like other Muslim countries in the Middle East, it says the focus should be on Israel over its presumed nuclear arsenal.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said it was important to increase sanctions pressure on the Islamic Republic during a visit to Vienna, where he met U.N. nuclear chief Yukiya Amano and Austrian leaders.

Iran should face a “heavier price every week, every month, so that they understand they are not going to get away with it,” Meridor told Reuters.

“(Pressure)...has a chance of success, if it is taken seriously, if it is persistent, if it is very clear, if it is accelerating,” he added.

But Tehran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses, has drawn four rounds of U.N. sanctions on the major oil producer since 2006.

In addition, the United States and the European Union have taken measures that go beyond the U.N. steps, including sanctions targeting Iran’s lifeblood energy sector.

Meridor, who oversees Israel’s spy services and nuclear affairs, suggested the push may be having an impact.

“Some months ago we had first signs that people in the Iranian leadership speak of it,” he said. “They haven’t yet changed the course, I don’t have this illusion, but I think (they are feeling) the price is getting higher and higher.”

Meridor made clear his view that more such action was needed in order to persuade the Iranian leadership to back down.

“Time is of the essence here. Every day gets us and them closer to the day in which Iran will become a military nuclear country.”

Iran, which like other major oil exporters is benefiting from a high crude price, has repeatedly dismissed the sanctions.

In his meeting with Meridor, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger stressed the EU’s call on Israel to make possible the resumption of a peace process by stopping construction of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian areas, his ministry said.

Additional reporting by Michael Shields

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