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Israel minister: Iran slowed down enrichment push

By The Associated Press

This article was published November 9, 2012 at 8:16 a.m.

— U.S. lawmakers are working on a set of new and unprecedented Iran sanctions that could prevent the Islamic republic from doing business with most of the world until it agrees to international constraints on its nuclear program, officials say.

The bipartisan financial and trade restrictions amount to a “complete sanctions regime” against Tehran, according to one congressional aide involved in the process. But it could put the Obama administration in a difficult position with allies who are still trading with Iran, but whom the U.S. needs if it is to secure a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.

On Thursday, in its first foreign policy announcement since the president’s re-election, the administration targeted four Iranian officials and five organizations with sanctions for jamming satellite broadcasts and blocking Internet access for Iranian citizens.

But the measures that Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., want to attach to a defense bill would be far more sweeping. They would target everything from Iranian assets overseas to all foreign goods that the country imports, building on the tough sanctions package against Tehran’s oil industry that the two lawmakers pushed through earlier this year, congressional aides and people involved in the process said. Those earlier measures already have cut Iran’s petroleum exports in half and hobbled its economy.

Meanwhile, Israel’s defense minister has said that Iran has slowed the timetable for enriching enough uranium to build nuclear weapons, implying that Israel would have more time to decide whether to strike Iran’s enrichment facilities.

“They essentially delayed their arrival at the red line by eight months,” said Ehud Barak, adding it was not clear why Iran stepped back.

Barak’s time frame is in line with one Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made in September when he spoke at the U.N. General Assembly. There, Netanyahu said the world has until next summer at the latest to stop Iran before it can build a nuclear bomb.

In other developments, officials from Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog will meet in Tehran next month in an attempt to restart stalled nuclear talks, the international agency announced Friday.

Such a meeting would be the first since early summer. The talks have been halted over Iran’s reluctance to grant access to sites that the U.N. nuclear agency suspects could have been used in secret work on nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such work, and says all of its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes.

The spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, George Webb, announced that the talks will take place Dec. 13 in Tehran.

“The aim is to conclude the structured approach to resolving outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear program,” Webb said in an e-mail to journalists.

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