Israel Steps Up Push for Sanctions on Iran

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak left for a five-day trip to the U.S. where he hopes to convince senior government officials to impose harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran.

Before traveling on to Washington, Barak will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Wednesday.

In D.C., the defense minister will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior government officials.

Should the Islamic Republic refuse the latest International Atomic Energy Association's recommendation to ship low-grade uranium abroad for processing - rather than enriching it in Iran - a new set of harsher sanctions could be imposed in March.

The U.S., Russia and France, which back the IAEA proposal, believe it would discourage Iran from enriching uranium to levels that can be used to produce nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that they have already stepped up the uranium enrichment program to 20 percent. Ahmadinejad has vowed to continue the country's nuclear program despite U.N. sanctions and international concerns.

Barak will also meet with Obama administration Middle East envoy George Mitchell to discuss the most recent developments with the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, a delegation of senior Israeli officials, led by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon left for China on Wednesday to try, among other things, to convince Beijing to support harsher sanctions against Iran.

"We are going to discuss a number of issues, bilateral, regional and international," said Israeli embassy spokesman Guy Kivetz in Beijing, "and the nuclear issue will be one of them."

Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer is among the senior officials accompanying Ya'alon.

At an economic forum in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Fischer said China's currency exchange policy is causing "a great deal of risk in the international financial system."

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The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.

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