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Israeli Attack on Iran Improbable for Near Future, Insiders Say

A technician walks through Iran’s Isfahan uranium conversion facility in 2007. Israel is unlikely to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program while economic and diplomatic efforts remain in progress on the longstanding atomic impasse, according to Israeli officials and defense analysts (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi). A technician walks through Iran’s Isfahan uranium conversion facility in 2007. Israel is unlikely to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program while economic and diplomatic efforts remain in progress on the longstanding atomic impasse, according to Israeli officials and defense analysts (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi).

Israeli defense analysts and government sources have said the unsuccessful outcome of this week's multilateral meeting with Iran would not increase the possibility of Tel Aviv employing military force against its longtime foe's nuclear program amid increasing economic pressure and ongoing attempts at dialogue, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday (see GSN, June 20).

Diplomats from Tehran met in Moscow on Monday and Tuesday with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States in an effort to resolve suspicions that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward establishment of a weapons capability. Lower-ranking representatives of the six powers are scheduled on July 3 to confer in Turkey with delegates from Iran, which insists its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful.

Allowing discussions and punitive financial steps to run their course would ultimately serve Israel's case that a negotiated settlement with Iran is impossible, bolstering a bid for partners to take harsher action against Iranian atomic assets, according to specialists.

"As long as the international community is willing to continue, Israel won't say, 'Stop.' That's unthinkable," one Israeli government insider said. "If the negotiations don't bring Iran to concessions, at least there will be a clear-cut case showing that Iran does not want to cooperate."

The six powers this week called for Iran to end production of 20-percent enriched uranium, relinquish stored material and shutter the underground Qum enrichment plant. Tehran, for its part, called on the governments to affirm the legality of its uranium refinement operations and curb international economic penalties.

The potential for the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany to accept lower-level Iranian uranium enrichment was a source of worry for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader said previously. Tehran might divide the six powers in the future though a last-minute proposal, a number of Israeli government sources said.

Former Israeli military intelligence officer Ephraim Kam suggested "there's a kind of relief on part of the government of Israel" over the hesitation of the six negotiating governments to finalize a bargain with Iran.

Kam played down the probability of an imminent Israeli armed campaign against Iran. "The military will be delayed for some time. ... The Americans and Europeans will tell Israel, 'You have to wait,' and we have to wait and see what the impact of the sanctions are," he said.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold said "sanctions are known to take a very long time to have an impact on the country you are targeting."

"Its important to put in place, but the clock is ticking," Gold said.

Next month's multilateral exchange in Istanbul would inform further steps to prompt a shift in Iranian atomic policies, the U.S. State Department indicated.

"If following this July 3 session, we are still not making progress, we're going to continue to work together on what more pressure we can bring to bear, including on the sanctions track," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said (Joshua Mitnick, Wall Street Journal, June 20).

A high-level Obama administration insider, though, described a grave situation arising from the lack of progress in three sets of multilateral discussions held over as many months. This week's meeting in Moscow followed seven-nation talks in Turkey and Iraq.

“There is not a one of us who is not aware how serious this is,” the source told the Washington Post (Joby Warrick, Washington Post I, June 20).

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz on Wednesday called for "the United States and Western powers to impose more severe sanctions in the oil embargo and financial sectors in order to stop Iran's nuclear development program," Reuters reported.

A necessity exists "to continue to prepare all other options," Mofaz added in remarks released following his Wednesday discussion with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Armed force "should be the last option, and I believe that this option should be led by the U.S. and the Western countries," he said before the Moscow meeting's conclusion became public (Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Reuters I, June 20).

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week said economic pressure and diplomatic outreach are proving more effective than previously.

Still, Barak told the Post, "I have to ask myself whether this will convince the ayatollahs to sit around the table and decide that the time has come to put an end to the military nuclear program, I don’t think that’s the case.

"[The Iranians] still feel there is room for maneuver," he said. "There is still a need both to ratchet up the sanctions and to heighten significantly the demands on the Iranians that would put an end to enrichment, would take all the enriched uranium out of the country, and would close and dismantle the installation at [Qum]."

"By the third meeting in a negotiation, you know whether the other party intends to reach an agreement or, alternatively, whether he is trying to play for time to avoid a decision," the minister added. "It seems to me that the Iranians keep defying and deceiving the whole world. But it’s up to the participants in the negotiations to reach this conclusion. We cannot afford to spend another three rounds of this nature just to allow the Iranians to keep maneuvering."

Barak declined to specify a deadline for achieving progress.

"I don’t want to pretend to set timelines for the world. But we have said loud and clear that it cannot be a matter of weeks but it [also] cannot be a matter of years," he said.

"At least on a technical level, there are a lot of preparations" for military action, Barak added (Lally Weymouth, Washington Post II, June 20).

Israel on Wednesday received a representative of the United Kingdom's delegation to the Iran discussions, Reuters reported. The diplomat was to brief government personnel on this week's meeting in Moscow, informed insiders said (Jeffrey Heller, Reuters II, June 21).

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday said his government does "not rule out any options" for addressing the nuclear standoff, Russia Today reported.

"No decision has yet been made. We will keep assessing the situation. We make such assessments almost every week," Lieberman said. "We will follow everything closely, and when we come to some decision, we will certainly implement it" (Russia Today, June 21).

Iran's legal authority under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to its atomic activities on Wednesday received further backing from political and armed forces officials in the country, the New York Times reported.

Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar said this week's meeting allowed Tehran to assess other negotiators' level of dedication to resolving the dispute. “Iran submitted a good proposal to them,” the legislator said (Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times I, June 20).

Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said the discussions demonstrated "that the Western side is (not interested) in interaction and they are not honest," the Associated Press reported.

"They have based their policy on bullying alone,” Iranian media quoted Rafsanjani as saying.

Iran dealt with "misbehavior," Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi told the Islamic Republic News Agency. He did not elaborate (Nasser Karimi, Associated Press/Time, June 21).

Iran is set in the near future to reveal 10 new models of military ships, Rear Adm. Abbas Zamini, technical affairs lieutenant chief for the Iranian navy, said on Tuesday in remarks quoted by the country's Fars News Agency (Fars News Agency I, June 19).

Navy head Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari on Wednesday said Iran's "presence in international waters is aimed at safeguarding the interests of the Islamic establishment and strengthening military power to defend Iran."

"So we will multiply our efforts to enhance our military might and have presence in international waters,” Iran's Press TV quoted Sayyari as saying (Press TV, June 21).

Iran's atomic efforts and this week's Moscow talks were focuses of a Wednesday meeting between International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, ITAR-Tass reported.

"The sides discussed the implementation and development of the system of IAEA guarantees and the settlement of the situation around the Iranian nuclear program in the light of the Moscow talks," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement (ITAR-Tass I, June 20).

Yukiya Amano, IAEA director general, on Thursday said arranging a trip to Iran's Parchin armed forces installation is a "matter of priority" for atomic auditors, Bloomberg reported. The International Atomic Energy Agency suspects the Parchin site to have housed a tank for performing nuclear weapon-usable combustion studies; it has unsuccessfully this year sought access to the installation, and independent reports have pointed to indications of a possible recent effort to conceal incriminating material at the site.

“Satellite imagery indicates that they are undertaking quite important activities” at the facility, the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said. “ In the past we did not see such active activities” (Zoltan Simon, Bloomberg, June 21).

Differences over Iran's uranium refinement activities have posed an obstacle in the multilateral negotiations, Ryabkov said to ITAR-Tass on Wednesday.

"As to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, this right is formulated in the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] in a generalized way, without being specified," the diplomat said. "There is no specific mention of the right to enrichment in the treaty but it is clear that peaceful uses of nuclear energy presuppose the right to enrichment, and the text of the treaty does not allow for artificially excluding precisely this part from the totality of the rights."

"As regards Iran, since there are doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program, the U.N. Security Council passed resolutions, binding from the viewpoint of international law, that objectively restrict Tehran's right to uranium enrichment," Ryabkov noted. "One of the complications of the talks that recurred at the Moscow round was the dispute as to under what conditions, in what framework and on what ground can Iran's right to uranium enrichment be officially recognized by the international community" (ITAR-Tass II, June 20).

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich on Thursday said this week's discussion in Moscow "has unfortunately not brought any progress," RIA Novosti reported (RIA Novosti, June 21).

One Western envoy said "we don't want a crisis or collapse of talks," the Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday.

Iran has not clarified what moves it could accept to alleviate fears over its production of 20 percent uranium, a process that Western powers fear could enable faster preparation of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent. Tehran maintains the operation is intended to fuel a medical reactor.

An Iranian envoy, though, said "the whole dispute is that P-5+1 want to have a technical meeting in order to respond to the issues Iran raised regarding their proposal."

Tehran, though, "wants to have legal, technical, and political experts to respond to both proposals tabled by each side," the insider said (Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, June 20).

This week's multilateral gathering represented "a missed opportunity," the Press Association quoted British Prime Minister David Cameron as saying on Wednesday.

"We remain committed to reaching a diplomatic solution on Iran," Cameron said. "Lack of progress at the talks in Moscow was a missed opportunity to address the serious concerns of the international community.

"The EU sanctions will kick in properly on July 1 and I hope that the Iranians will reconsider and return to the table willing to negotiate seriously," he said, referring to a pending embargo on Iranian petroleum (Andrew Woodcock, Press Association/Google News, June 20).

Former Obama administration adviser Dennis Ross in a Tuesday commentary urged the six world powers to offer Iran a peaceful atomic energy capability in as part of a broad agreement instead of pursuing incremental agreements with the country, the Times reported on Wednesday.

“The issue here is, ‘How do you deal with a process that’s going to be harder and harder to justify?’” Ross added in an interview. “If it looks like you’re engaging in a process for the sake of process, that’s a bigger problem” (Mark Landler, New York Times II, June 20).

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday expressed remorse over the failure of this week's meeting to produce a substantive, even-handed deal, according to a press release.

“The secretary general hopes that, in advance of the forthcoming technical and political meetings, the parties strengthen their resolve to quickly achieve a negotiated solution that restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program,” a press representative for Ban said in written comments.

“In this connection, the secretary general appeals to the parties to resume their diplomatic engagement with renewed intensity and with the utmost flexibility,” the statement adds (United Nations release, June 20).

Recent events were the subject of a Wednesday exchange between the U.N. chief and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fars News reported.

"All Iran's nuclear energy activities have so far been based on (international) regulations and under the surveillance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Islamic Republic of Iran has remained committed to and fulfilled all its undertakings," Ahmadinejad stated (Fars News Agency II, June 20).

Iran is one anticipated focus of discussions scheduled for next week between Clinton and high-level Finnish government personnel, the Xinhua News Agency reported (Xinhua News Agency I, June 20).

"Everybody needs to know, most particularly the Iranians, that we are serious that they cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon," CBS News quoted her as saying on Wednesday.

"It is not only about Iran and about Iran's intentions, however one tries to discern them, it's about the arms race that would take place in the region with such unforeseen consequences, because you name any country with the means anywhere near Iran that is an Arab country," Clinton added.

"If Iran has a nuclear weapon, I can absolutely bet on it and know I will win, they will be in the market within hours. And that is going to create a cascade of difficult challenges for us and for Israel and for all of our friends and partners," she said (CBS News, June 21).

"We've seen China slowly but surely take actions" to curb its purchases of petroleum from Iran, Reuters quoted Clinton as saying.

"I have to certify under American laws whether or not countries are reducing their purchases of crude oil from Iran and I was able to certify that India was, Japan was, South Korea was," the secretary of State said. The certifications temporarily excluded the three Asian countries from U.S. financial sanctions that could take effect on June 28.

"We think, based on the latest data, that China is also moving in that direction," Clinton said (Andrew Quinn, Reuters III, June 20).

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, though, on Thursday defended his country's purchases of Iranian petroleum as "fully reasonable and legitimate," Xinhua reported (Xinhua News Agency II, June 21).

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