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Obama team, EU sharpen tone toward Iran

Israel urges tighter sanctions after Iran satellite launch
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday urged the international community to apply tougher sanctions against Tehran following its launch of a low Earth orbit satellite. The launch "constitutes an additional reason for the international community to strengthen its sanctions against Iran," the defence ministry quoted Barak as saying. "The Iranian satellite launch constitutes a technological success for Tehran" which is boosting "its military potential in the intelligence sector," he added. Iran insists its first home-built satellite has no military aims. But Monday's launch of the Omid (Hope) satellite carried by the home-built Safir-2 rocket has set alarm bells ringing among Western powers already at loggerheads with Tehran over its nuclear programme. Israel -- the region's sole if undeclared nuclear armed state -- and the West have accused Iran of using its nuclear programme to develop an atomic bomb, but Tehran insists it is solely for civilian purposes.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 3, 2009
The United States and European allies sharpened their tone Tuesday toward Iran even if the Obama administration still holds the door open to diplomatic engagement with the Islamic republic.

Just two weeks in office, President Barack Obama's administration took a firm line toward Iran's nuclear and missile programs, and planned to raise the issues at talks in Germany on Wednesday with European allies, Russia and China.

The White House, which has ordered a review of US policy toward Tehran, pledged that the United States will use "all elements of our national power to deal with Iran" after Tehran said it had launched a satellite into orbit.

The message from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs left open the possibility that the United States would consider using military force against Tehran to make it toe the international line.

"This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region," Gibbs told reporters when asked if the satellite launch undermined Obama's desire to open talks with Iran.

The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch a space rocket could be diverted to developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

"Efforts to develop missile delivery capability, efforts to continue on an illicit nuclear program, or threats that Iran makes toward Israel and its sponsorship of terror are of acute concern to this administration," Gibbs said.

Meanwhile, Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned "there must be consequences" if Iran fails to respect UN resolutions demanding a halt to its uranium enrichment activities.

As Clinton welcomed German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier for talks here, she added that the United States and Germany must cooperate in getting Iran to comply with its international obligations.

Steinmeier said: "It is very important we work together."

If Iran's reports of the launch were correct it would be a "worrying development and a disturbing sign," Steinmeier warned after arriving in Washington.

In London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he discussed Iran with Clinton earlier Tuesday.

British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said the satellite launch "sends the wrong signal to the international community which has already passed five successive UN Security Council resolutions on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program."

Clinton's talks with her European counterparts come before top envoys from the United States, Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia meet Wednesday in Germany for the first time since she took office on January 22.

State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany would take up the questions of Iran's nuclear program and ballistic missiles.

Russia and China have resisted US-led efforts for even deeper sanctions on Iran, which is already under three sets of UN sanctions.

In Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry said Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed to boost bilateral ties in telephone talks, but did not elaborate.

US-Russian ties plummeted under the previous US administration of George W. Bush, which infuriated Moscow with its plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in eastern Europe.

Washington argues the shield will deter a ballistic missile threat from rogue states like Iran, but Moscow calls it a strategic threat to Russia.

US officials say ideas raised at the talks in Germany will contribute to the review on Iran conducted by the administration, which wants to take a new tack on Iran from the Bush administration by engaging with leadership in Tehran.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed skepticism about the chances of success for US engagement with Iran.

Western powers worried about Iran satellite technology
Paris (AFP) Feb 3 - Western powers working to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions voiced "acute concern" Tuesday over the Islamic Republic's technological leap in launching its first home-built satellite into orbit.

The technology for launching satellites "is very similar to ballistic (missile) capabilities," said French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.

"We can't but link this to the very serious concerns about the development of military nuclear capability."

In Washington, the new administration of President Barack Obama said Iran's action would not advance stability in the Middle East region.

"Efforts to develop missile delivery capability, efforts to continue an illicit nuclear programme, or threats that Iran makes towards Israel and its sponsorshop of terror are of acute concern to this administration," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Iran sent its Omid (Hope) satellite into space on Monday evening carried by the home-built Safir-2 space rocket, local news agencies reported.

A US official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, confirmed that "it appears that the Iranians conducted a launch of a low-orbit satellite."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called it a "worrying development" which showed "the technical achievements that Iran is obviously capable of and the threats."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad Tuesday hailed the launch, declaring his country has "officially achieved a presence in space."

But its timing also heightened concerns in the international community.

The launch announcement came on the eve of a meeting in Germany of senior diplomats from the five permanent member states of the UN Security Council plus Germany which have been trying to end the nuclear standoff with Iran.

Despite UN sanctions Tehran continues to defy calls to freeze its uranium enrichment.

The West suspects Iran of wanting enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies claiming its nuclear work is for peaceful energy purposes.

"We have been trying for years to stop Iran from developing its own nuclear program and its own nuclear weapons. So far we have not succeeded," said Steinmeier, noting that joint efforts with Washington were even more urgent.

British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said Iran's satellite launch just underscored and illustrated "our serious concerns about Iran's intentions."

It also "sends the wrong signal to the international community which has already passed five successive UN Security Council resolutions on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programme," Rammell said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also warned Iran that while "President Obama has signaled his intention to support tough and direct diplomacy with Iran," if Tehran does not abide by UN resolutions "there must be consequences."

A NATO officer Tuesday noted that if Iran's satellite launch is confirmed it would mean that Tehran has missiles capable of striking Israel and also southeast Europe.

As Iran's arch-foe in the Mideast, Israel sees Tehran's nuclear drive as a major threat, and on Tuesday the Israeli defence minister urged Washington not to exclude the option of military action against the Islamic Republic.

"We must reach a strategic understanding with the United States on the essence of Iran's nuclear programme and make sure that even if they choose a diplomatic track to halt it, the talks must be limited to a short time and then harsh sanctions and readiness to take action," Ehud Barak said in a speech.

Gibbs said the Obama administration "will use all elements of our national power to deal with Iran and to help it be a responsible member of the international community."

Ahmadinejad however dismissed suggestions Iran's space programme has military goals, saying the satellite carried a message of "peace and brotherhood" to the world.

"We have a divine view of technology unlike the dominating powers of the world who have Satanic views," he said.

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Iran risks 'consequences' if it ignores UN: Clinton
Washington (AFP) Feb 3, 2009
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday warned Iran it faced consequences if it failed to respect UN resolutions demanding a halt to its uranium enrichment activities.

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