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UK's prime minister urges Israel to give Iran sanctions time to work

Ben Stansall / Pool via EPA

British Prime Minister David Cameron pushed Israel to give sanctions against Iran time to work, during a speech to a U.K. Jewish charity on Monday evening.

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Israel on Monday evening not to strike Iran in the immediate future, citing growing evidence that sanctions are having an effect on Iran’s economy.

“I have said to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that now is not the time for Israel to resort to military action,” the prime minister said in a speech to a U.K. Jewish charity. “Beyond the unpredictable dangers inherent in any conflict the other reason is this: At the very moment when the Iranian regime faces unprecedented pressure and the people are on the streets, and when Iran’s only real ally in Syria is losing its grip on power, a foreign military strike is exactly the chance the regime would look for to unite its people against a foreign military.”

Speculation has grown over the past months that Israel will attack Iran to derail its nuclear program. Last month, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu urged the world to draw a red line “before Iran completes the second stage of nuclear enrichment to make a bomb.”

Iran maintains that its nuclear project has only peaceful energy purposes and has refused in three rounds of talks since April to scale back its uranium enrichment activity unless major economic sanctions are rescinded. 

Despite Cameron’s insistence that sanctions be given more time to work, he still left open the possibility of a military strike, saying that under no circumstances would Britain tolerate a nuclear armed Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Spokesman Mark Regev joins MSNBC to discuss Benjamin Netanyahu's recent address to the U.N. General Assembly.

“In the long term, if Iran makes the wrong choice, nothing -- and I mean nothing -- is off the table,” he said. “A nuclear armed Iran is a threat to Israel and a threat to the world, and this country will work unwaveringly to prevent that from happening.”

Western intelligence sees 'small signs of wavering' on Iran nuclear policy

China pushes new talks
Cameron’s remarks came on the same day that the European Union intensified sanctions on Iran. In addition to the current bans on oil and gas, all transactions between European and Iranian banks will now be prohibited, unless they have been explicitly authorized by national authorities. Natural gas imports will also be banned, along with a host of other related restrictions.

The new sanctions mark one of the EU's toughest moves against Iran to date and a significant change of policy for the 27-member bloc, which has hitherto focused largely on targeting specific people and companies with economic restrictions. 

Iran says ready 'to offer an exchange' on nuke issue

The EU has lagged the United States in imposing blanket industry bans because it says it is concerned not to punish ordinary Iranian citizens while inflicting pain on the Tehran government.

The Iranian economy is in free fall, with its currency, the rial hitting a record low. NBC's Ali Arouzi reports.

Israel applauded the toughened sanctions, calling them an “important step,” according to the Jerusalem Post. China however, spoke out against the move and criticized the new sanctions, calling again for talks to resolve the stand-off. China is Iran's largest crude oil customer and, along with Russia, has resisted putting sanctions on Tehran.

"We oppose the imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran and believe that using sanctions to exert pressure cannot fundamentally resolve the Iran nuclear issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a daily news briefing.

"It can only make the situation more complex and intensify confrontation... We hope that all relevant parties can show flexibility, increase communication and push for a new round of talks as soon as possible."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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