Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak: Sanctions Won’t Stop Iran’s ‘Nuclear Military Program’

In upcoming talks between the P5+1 and Iran, U.S. officials are hoping to make progress in persuading Iran to suspend high-level uranium enrichment and close a nuclear facility near the city of Qoms. While rejecting any pre-conditions for talks, Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi acknowledged that “we have our opinions and the P5+1 have theirs but we have to find common areas.”

Indeed, the international sanctions regime has increasingly squeezed Iran’s ability to engage in the global economy, according to U.S., European and Israeli sources, and given Iran growing incentives to engage the P5+1 in negotiations on its nuclear program. But in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced misgivings:

It is clear that the depths of the sanctions is different for what we had in the past, and it has its impact both the closing of the SWIFT clearing system as well as the sanctions on the oil export and, of course, the coming negotiations that will probably encourage them to move.

But to tell the truth, we hope for the better, but I don’t believe that this amount of sanctions and pressure will bring the Iranian leadership to the conclusion that they have to stop their nuclear military program.

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But Barak’s pessimism isn’t shared by other Israeli government officials. Last week, Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, wrote that sanctions have been “much more effective than people think” and “hopefully it might change behavior patterns if we continue with us.”

And Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told the CBC last week, “there is evidence that these sanctions are hurting, that it’s impacting on their economy, it’s impacting on their ability to govern themselves.”

In his CNN interview, Barak said Iran is moving forward with a “nuclear military program” and also said Iran is “determined to reach nuclear military capability.” Top U.S. officials and the IAEA agree that Iran is continuing to develop its nuclear capability and that some of their activities may have military dimensions. But the IAEA, and U.S. and Israeli Intelligence agree that Iran has “not made the decision to actually produce a nuclear weapon” as Panetta said last week.