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Israeli PM Pins Strikes Against Embassy Staff on Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has charged Iran and Lebanon-based Hezbollah with plotting explosives strikes on Monday against Israeli consular officials in India and Georgia, further intensifying a standoff fueled by international concerns that Tehran is seeking a nuclear-weapon capability, Reuters reported (see GSN, Feb. 13).

Iran, which insists its atomic activities have no military component, has rejected assertions that it was tied to the bombings. An explosion totaled a car transporting an Israeli government staffer in New Delhi, injuring the passenger, the person steering the vehicle and two bystanders. A bomb in Tbilisi was deactivated and did not detonate.

"Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are behind each of these attacks," Netanyahu said. "We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran."

Iran's Foreign Ministry, though, suggested Jerusalem had instigated the strikes in a bid to further isolate Iran.

"It seems that these suspicious incidents are designed by the Zionist regime and carried out with the aim of harming Iran's reputation," spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in remarks carried by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

The incident in India mirrored the use of an attached explosive to kill an Iranian nuclear scientist in January, Reuters reported. Several atomic specialists in the Middle Eastern state have been attacked in recent years.

The United States had no details on possible perpetrators of the Monday assaults, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

"These incidents underscore our ongoing concerns of the targeting of Israeli interests overseas," the official added (Dan Williams, Reuters I, Feb. 14).

Authorities in India on Tuesday were seeking an individual believed to have affixed the explosive device to the Israeli vehicle from a motorcycle, the Associated Press reported.

The assault was apparently extremist in nature and the work of a "very well-trained person," Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said. "At the moment, I am not pointing a finger at any particular group or any particular organization. But whoever did it, we condemn it in the strongest terms."

Israel has dispatched forensic experts to New Delhi in an effort to help identify the attacker, according to an informed insider (Ravi Nessman, Associated Press I/Google News, Feb. 14).

Sufficient clues were available at the attack sites in New Delhi and Tbilisi to attribute both assaults to Iranian proxies, the New York Times quoted Israeli government personnel as saying.

“Iran’s fingerprints are all over this,” one such source said following discussions with senior colleagues in the Israeli capital (Ethan Bronner, New York Times I, Feb. 13).

Additional connected attacks could take place in the future, Israeli officials said in remarks reported by AP.

"No doubt we face a wave of terror," Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told Israel Radio (Nessman, Associated Press I).

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak tied Iran to three additional explosions on Tuesday in Bangkok, Thailand, the London Guardian reported (Kate Hodal, London Guardian, Feb. 14).

Former Israeli intelligence chief Danny Yatom said the strikes would not affect his nation's discussions over whether to employ armed force in an effort to curb Iran's atomic progress.

"The nuclear issue is totally separate," the Los Angeles Times quoted Yatom as saying.

Tel Aviv University Middle Eastern studies head Uzi Rabi said strikes on Israeli officials are Iran's only means of responding to attacks on Iranian nuclear specialists without potentially sparking a wider conflict. Tehran considers Jerusalem responsible for the attacks on its atomic experts (Sanders/Magnier, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 13).

Meanwhile, Iran said it would announce on Wednesday a number of advancements in its nuclear activities, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Several completed nuclear projects will be unveiled tomorrow in the presence of the president," the Iranian government said in a statement on Tuesday, reaffirming comments made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday.

"Experts believe these achievements will show the world the extraordinary capability and knowledge of Iranians," the release states, adding the accomplishments would demonstrate Tehran's commitment to the principle of "nuclear power for all and nuclear weapons for none" (Agence France-Presse I/London Telegraph, Feb. 14).

The top U.S. and Turkish diplomats on Monday voiced readiness to join Iran in further discussions of its atomic efforts, the Xinhua News Agency reported (see GSN, Feb. 13). The five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany convened talks with Tehran on two separate occasions in December 2010 and January 2011, but neither gathering yielded clear progress toward resolving the dispute (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011).

The Obama administration stands by a strategy "that both applies sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but also makes it clear that we are ready to sit down and discuss in a purposeful way, through diplomatic engagement, the nuclear program," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary said after speaking in Washington with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"I have said many times from this podium and elsewhere we recognize Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, but Iran also has international responsibilities that we expect it to live up to," Clinton said.

Ankara "will be contributing to all processes [and] will be doing everything possible to resolve this issue," Davutoglu said.

The Turkish minister said he and Clinton both believe any further discussions would ideally begin  "with a strong political will and good intention and with a result-oriented process."

Davutoglu said Iranian officials had voiced openness to convening further talks when he traveled to Tehran in January. Turkey maintains "close contact" with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, he noted.

"We are willing to mediate or do anything which will contribute to the process," the Turkish official said (Xinhua News Agency, Feb. 14).

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu on Monday called for Iran and the six countries to begin new meetings "as rapidly as possible," AFP reported.

Ma also demanded "cooperation to be reinforced between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran and for both sides to find effective solutions to resolve their problems."

Iranian senior nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili should reply "as soon as possible" to a European Union communication from October on pursuing further dialogue, Iranian official television quoted the Chinese official as saying.

"The Iranian side said that Mr. Jalili was soon going to send his response to the letter” from Ashton, he said. “I think this is a positive signal from Iran.”

Ma issued the remarks as he concluded a trip to Tehran that began on Sunday. The stay was reported to include a meeting between Ma and Iranian Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary Ali Bagheri.

Bagheri said his country does not accept Western powers' "approach of dialogue and pressure, which leads to failure and an impasse.”

Iran wants any exchanges with the six nations to be rooted in “dialogue and cooperation,” the official added (Agence France-Presse II/Khaleej Times, Feb. 13).

In Beijing, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said he had communicated to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday the 27-nation EU bloc's "deep concern on the Iranian nuclear program and I explained to him that our actions and sanctions are aimed to bring Tehran back to the negotiating table," AP reported.

The European Union by July is set to cut off oil imports from Iran (Joe McDonald, Associated Press II/Google News, Feb. 14).

China should cut its oil transfers from Iran, a group of former U.S. lawmakers and national security officials said on Tuesday in a public statement to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the New York Times reported. Xi was set to confer with President Obama in the White House on Tuesday.

“We believe that the value of these sanctions is to encourage the kind of diplomatic breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear activities that both of our nations seek,” says the statement from the Partnership for a Secure America in Washington. “In the context of your historic trip to the United States, we therefore urge you to make clear that China will significantly reduce its imports of oil from Iran, uphold the applicable resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, and use its economic influence with Tehran, coupled with robust diplomacy, to help resolve this issue peacefully” (Rick Gladstone, New York Times II, Feb. 13).

Beijing, New Delhi and other Asian capitals would have the ultimate say over the effectiveness of penalties enacted against Iran by the United States and Europe, Reuters quoted experts as saying.

Beijing has reduced petroleum purchases from Iran by nearly 50 percent, but its representatives are in talks with the nation on additional oil deals and has communicated its desire for other Asian countries to also maintain purchases. India is presently consuming the greatest quantity of Iranian petroleum of any country (Apps/Torbati, Reuters II, Feb. 13).

Elsewhere, Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov suggested Iran's adversaries could determine within months what action to take to address the nuclear standoff, RIA Novosti reported on Tuesday.

“Iran, of cause, is a sore spot. Some kind of decision should be taken, probably nearer to summer,” Makarov said (RIA Novosti, Feb. 14).

Neither RIA Novosti nor other Russian media sources reported Makarov identifying what power or group of powers would be responsible for the decision, Reuters reported (Steve Gutterman, Reuters III, Feb. 14).

Experts said an Israeli strike on Iranian atomic sites would be likely to involve complicated aerial maneuvers against more than 20 assets, USA Today reported on Monday (Jim Michaels, USA Today, Feb. 13).

Iranian vessels on Tuesday tracked the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as it moved into the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, but no open conflict resulted from the encounter, AP reported (Adam Schreck, Associated Press III/Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 14).

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