Iran wants talks under spectre of possible war

AFP , Sunday 19 Feb 2012

Islamic republic welcomes IAEA delegation to inspect nuclear facilities amid continued Israeli threats of possible military strike

Iran is to host a high-level team from the UN nuclear watchdog on Monday as part of efforts to defuse dire international tensions over its atomic activities through dialogue.

But other words being spoken in Israel, the United States and Britain – and Iran's defiant moves to boost its nuclear activities – underlined the prospect of possible Israeli military action against the Islamic republic.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Sunday said his country was keen to quickly resume mooted talks with world powers, once a place and date were agreed.

The last talks collapsed in Istanbul in January 2011, but Iran has responded positively to an EU offer to look at reviving them.

"We are looking for a mechanism for a solution for the nuclear issue in a way that it is win-win for both sides," Salehi said.

But he added that Iran remained prepared for a "worst-case scenario."

Such a scenario – war – remained very much the subtext of a visit to Israel on Sunday by US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

Israel has been gripped by feverish speculation in recent weeks that it is closer to mounting a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear programme, though Tel Aviv has denied reaching such a decision.

The United States, while itself not ruling out a military option against Iran, was publicly being seen holding back its main Middle East ally from taking such drastic action.

"I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us," Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told CNN.

"The US government is confident that the Israelis understand our concerns," Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted Dempsey as saying in the CNN interview.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also warned on the BBC on Sunday: "I don't think the wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran."

Israel's calculations will have taken into account an announcement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last Tuesday that his scientists were boosting uranium enrichment, notably by adding 3,000 more centrifuges to a facility at Natanz.

Iran also appeared to be about to install thousands of new centrifuges in another, heavily fortified enrichment facility near the city of Qom, a diplomat accredited to the UN nuclear watchdog told the BBC.

Iran says the enrichment is part of a purely peaceful civilian nuclear programme.

Western nations and Israel, though, fear it is part of a drive to develop the ability to make atomic weapons.

A November report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), strongly suggested Iran's programme included nuclear weapons research.

The IAEA delegation due in Tehran on Monday is to hold two days of talks with Iranian officials on these suspicions.

A previous visit on the same issue at the end of January, though, yielded no breakthrough.

"I'm not optimistic that Iran will provide much more information because I think any honest answers to the IAEA's questions would confirm that Iran had been involved in weapons-related development work and Iran wouldn't want to admit that for fear of being penalised," Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies told AFP.

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