Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared on CNN yesterday to be interviewed by anchor Christiane Amanpour. In a sometimes contentious interview, Amanpour focused mostly on the Iranian nuclear program. Despite agreement that a potential nuclear armed Iran would constitute a threat, a slight rift opened up last week between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the first new round of talks between Iran and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.
Amanpour dove into Iran issues and commented on Barak’s repeated references to Iran’s “military nuclear program.” Amanpour cited reports about American intelligence estimates which — along with Israeli and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates — doesn’t conclude that Iran has decided on building a weapon. “You’re obviously very concerned, and so are many, should Iran get a nuclear capability that’s military. As I said, the U.S. does not believe any such decision has been made,” she said. Barak shot back: “No, no, no. The — I want to correct you.” He didn’t, however, contradict what she said, but rather added to it his own assessment:
BARAK: I’m talking to the American intelligence. I’ve talked to American leaders. There is no difference in the assessment of intelligence. It’s true that probably [Iranian Supreme Leader] Khamenei did not give an order to start building a weapon or a device.
But why he’s doing this, just because he understands that if he starts to break the IAEA and start to actually build a weapon, he might find himself faced with an American response, Israeli response or whoever, in a way that might damage him. And that’s the only reason why he did not give the order. But they’re clearly heading toward this objective.
AMANPOUR: But if that’s the case, then, then surely the pressure is working, that they’re not doing it, as you said, because the pressure is there and the threat of what you might do.
BARAK: These are quite effective sanctions. But it’s still far away from working.
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Barak is right to say that sanctions have not worked, as such, because Iran has yet to answer many questions from the IAEA about its past activities and allow unfettered access to sites on the IAEA’s list — both points Barak made. But Barak’s conclusion, which buttressed Amanpour’s point, is also correct: pressure is having an effect, as evinced by Iran’s willingness to come to the table and engage — albeit on what will almost certainly be a rocky path. President Obama has vowed to keep all options on the table and limits the window for successful negotiations, which his administration considers the “best and most permanent way” to end the crisis.
Barak’s comments that sanctions “are quite effective” track with those of Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor, who said earlier this month that the sanctions track is “much more effective than people think and it might change, hopefully it might change behavior patterns if we continue with it.”