Israel Warns Negotiators to be Tough with Iran
April 7, 2012
In a letter addressed to "Distinguished author Dr Gunter Grass," Deputy Culture Minister Javad Shamaqdari was quoted as saying: "I read your literary work of human and historical responsibility, and it warns beautifully."
"Telling the truth in this way may awake the silent and dormant conscience of the West. Writers are able single-handedly to prevent human tragedies, in a way that armies cannot."
The 84-year-old Grass sparked outrage at home and abroad on Wednesday when he published "What must be said" in a newspaper in which he said he feared a nuclear-armed Israel "could wipe out the Iranian people" with a "first strike."
Grass, a long-time leftist activist, said in interviews on Thursday that the media had attacked him without understanding his message, and although he found the personal accusations against him "hurtful," he had no plans to back down.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called Grass's poem "shameful."
Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, has said it is keeping all options open over Iran's nuclear programme which it says is aimed at securing atomic weapons, posing an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly questioned Israel's right to exist, has denied that its sensitive nuclear work is aimed at making atomic bombs.
April 8, 2012
Israel has signaled it would accept, as a first priority, world powers focusing on persuading Iran to stop higher-level uranium enrichment when they resume stalled nuclear negotiations this week with Tehran.
Israel, which has threatened last-resort attacks on its arch-foe's nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails, demanded last month that any negotiated resolution should end all uranium enrichment, high and low level, and remove all fuel already stockpiled by Iran.
But Western diplomats have said the six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - that are due to open new talks with Iran on Friday would first tackle its uranium refinement to a fissile concentration of 20 percent rather than its more abundant 3.5 percent-pure fuel. The two sides have not yet agreed where the talks will take place.
The 20 percent enriched uranium would be far easier to enrich to bomb-grade 90 percent purity, though Iran denies having such designs, saying it is only seeking electrical energy and medical isotopes.
"We told our American friends, as well as the Europeans, that we would have expected the threshold for successful negotiations to be clear, namely that the P5+1 will demand clearly that - no more enrichment to 20 percent," Barak said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS to be aired on Sunday.
Iran's stocks of 20 percent-pure uranium should be removed "to a neighboring, trusted country", Barak said, according to an advance transcript of the interview.
Iran says it has a sovereign right to peaceful nuclear technology and has repeatedly rejected U.N. resolutions calling for a suspension of all uranium enrichment.
But it has at times appeared more flexible regarding 20 percent enrichment, which it began in early 2010, and some experts say that initially getting Iran to stop this higher-grade work could open a way to ease the deadlock.
Asked about Barak's comments to CNN, another Israeli official confirmed that the Netanyahu government was focusing lobbying efforts on Iran's 20-percent pure uranium but said the long-term goal remained the ending all of its enrichment work.
"The understanding that has emerged in our contacts with the powers is that there should be a staggered approach," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
COUNTDOWN ON ISRAELI DECISION
Western diplomats have similarly stressed that an initial focus on 20 percent enrichment should not be seen as "legitimizing" lower-level work as the U.N. Security Council has demanded a full suspension.
Iran has enough 3.5 and 20 percent-enriched uranium for around four bombs if refined further, Western experts say.
Barak's remarks dovetailed with what the New York Times said on Saturday would be submitted to Iran by the United States and other Western nations in the upcoming talks.
According to the report, the world powers, which have ramped up sanctions against Iran, also plan to press it to close and ultimately dismantle a recently completed enrichment bunker in a mountain near Qom - another demand leveled by the Israelis.
Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented U.S. President Barack Obama last month with propositions for an Iran deal that included allowing limited operations at its main enrichment facility at Natanz.
Netanyahu's office had no comment on the Yedioth report.
Many analysts believe it may be unrealistic to demand that Iran suspend all enrichment as its leaders have invested so much national and personal prestige in the project.
In return for allowing limited, low-level enrichment, those analysts argue, Iran would need to accept much more intrusive U.N. inspections to make sure there is no military diversion.
Widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran would be a mortal threat.
"We don't have to make a decision next week, and we cannot wait years, though," Barak said in the CNN interview when asked about the prospect of an Israeli pre-emptive attack. "We don't have any decision about what to do or a date for (a) decision."
He dismissed speculation that Israel might settle for a Cold War-style nuclear deterrence with the Iranians if they get the bomb.
"No mutually assured destruction kind of situation ... will serve as a modifier or stabilizer in this case, because we are not continents, and Israel is not either the United States or the Soviet Union," Barak said.
April 8, 2012
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday warned the six-power group negotiating with Iran to set stringent limits on its nuclear enrichment at forthcoming talks.
"If the P5+1 will set a much lower threshold, like just stop reaching 20 percent it means that basically the Iranians at a very cheap cost bought their way into continuing their military programmes, slightly slower but without sanctions," Barak said in English in an interview aired on Sunday by CNN.
"That would be a total change of direction for the worse," he added.
The so-called P5+1, comprising the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, is scheduled to begin talks with Iran in coming weeks, though no date has been set and Tehran has rejected at least one proposed venue.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month set three "benchmarks" for a peaceful settlement of the Iran nuclear issue: That the Islamic republic dismantle its underground nuclear facility in Qom, stop uranium enrichment and get rid of all enriched material in Iran beyond what would allow it to make medical isotopes or generate nuclear power.
"And when I say all the material, I mean all the material, from 3.5 percent up," Netanyahu said, during a March 2 visit to Ottawa on his way to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington.
The New York Times reported late Saturday that the United States and its European allies plan to demand the immediate closing and ultimate dismantling of the Qom plant, a halt in the production of uranium fuel that is considered just a few steps from bomb grade, and the shipment of existing stockpiles of that fuel out of the country.
"Mr. Obama and his allies are gambling that crushing sanctions and the threat of Israeli military action will bolster the arguments of those Iranians who say a negotiated settlement is far preferable to isolation and more financial hardship," the Times wrote.
The Obama administration says it does not believe Iran has taken a decision to develop a nuclear weapon, or that the time is right for military action, preferring to give sanctions time to work.
But Israel, which sees a possible Iranian nuclear weapon as a threat to its very existence, claims Iran may be on the cusp of "breakout" capability -- when it could quickly build a nuclear weapon -- and it does not rule out staging a pre-emptive strike of its own.
Iran last held talks with the six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- in January 2011 with no results.
Obama has told Iran the United States would accept Tehran having a civilian nuclear programme if the Islamic state can prove it is not seeking atomic weapons, the Washington Post said Friday.
Obama sent such a message to Tehran via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who delivered it to Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei last week, said the newspaper's foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius.