Panetta: Effect of Iran sanctions ‘may not be obvious,’ but they have an impact

“These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy in Iran,” Panetta told reporters during a visit to the North Africa American Military Cemetery, according to the AP.

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“And while the results of that may not be obvious at the moment, the fact is that they have expressed a willingness to negotiate and they continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution,” he said.

Iran has entered into a new round of nuclear talks this year with the P5+1 group, the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany. But while the talks have not broken down like they did last year, they also have not yielded any substantive agreement.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, while the United States and its allies suspect that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been skeptical of the effectiveness of sanctions on Iran, and he repeated a line on Sunday he’s used before that "all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.”

President Obama has urged the Israelis not to attack Iran’s nuclear program unilaterally, and to give time for sanctions to work. Obama has said the U.S. is taking no options off the table, including a military one, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who met with Netanyahu in Israel Sunday, has criticized Obama for not being tough enough on Iran.

Romney said Sunday he would “respect” the right of Israel to defend itself against Iran.

Panetta in Tunis Monday focused on the diplomatic side of the equation. “What we all need to do is to continue the pressure on Iran, economically and diplomatically ... to negotiate and to ultimately do what’s right in joining the international family,” he said, according to the AP.