Israel urges tougher Iran sanctions whoever wins vote

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon has called for tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program regardless of who is elected as its new president, public radio reported on Saturday.

The report came as partial results from Friday’s election gave a clear lead to moderate Hassan Rowhani, who headed Iran’s nuclear negotiating team under reformist president Mohammad Khatami in the early 2000s and has pledged to engage more with the international community.

“We must toughen the sanctions against Iran and make this country understand that the military option remains on the table to halt the progress of its dangerous nuclear program,” the radio station quoted Yaalon as saying on a visit to the United States.

Asked about the presidential election, Yaalon replied: “It is (supreme leader Ayatollah) Ali Khamenei who will decide who gets elected.”

A Pentagon statement confirmed that Yaalon discussed Iran in talks with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday but gave few details.

Hagel and Yaalon “reaffirmed that the United States and Israel will continue to work together to counter threats posed by Iran and remain prepared for a range of contingencies,” the statement said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already said on Wednesday that he expects no change in Iran’s nuclear policy whoever wins the election.

Israel is the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power and has made preventing Iran from developing a rival arsenal its top strategic priority.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for civil power generation and medical purposes only.

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