Israel will take own Iran decisions: Foreign minister

AFP , Sunday 4 Mar 2012

One day before US-Israel summit, Israeli FM stresses Tel Aviv's readiness to take military action against Iran - despite mounting US doubts that Islamic republic is developing nuclear weapons

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, (Photo: Reuters).

Israel will take any decisions on Iran's nuclear activities as an "independent state," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday, on the eve of a US-Israel summit in Washington.

"Clearly, the United States is the biggest world power and the biggest and most important country that is a friend of Israel, but we are an independent state," Lieberman told Israeli public radio.

"Ultimately, the state of Israel will take the decisions that are most appropriate based on its evaluation of the situation," he said.

Lieberman's comments came shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to hold talks in Washington with US President Barack Obama on Monday, a meeting expected to focus heavily on Iran's nuclear activities.

Israel, Washington and much of the international community believe that Iran's nuclear programme masks a weapons drive – a charge Tehran denies.

US intelligence believes that Iran does not currently intend to produce nuclear weapons, though it may be seeking the capacity to do so, and Washington has emphasised the importance of deterrent sanctions and diplomacy.

But Israel is reportedly eager to move more quickly and decisively against Iran's nuclear activities, using a military strike to prevent it from obtaining even the capacity to take a decision to produce nuclear weapons.

"The Iranian file is well-known," Lieberman said. "The direction taken by Iran is clear."

But he added that any decisions should be taken "calmly, weighing the pros and cons. All this chatter doesn't help anyone."

Lieberman also warned that the international community's failure to deal with the bloodshed in Syria, where a crackdown on anti-regime protesters has killed thousands, showed Israel could rely only on itself for protection.

"If the international community is incapable of stopping the massacres in Syria, what is the value of its promises to protect the security of Israel?"

Obama has sought to reassure Israel that he will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, as indicated in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly magazine published on Friday.

"I think that the Israeli government recognises that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," he told the magazine.

Despite the comments, Israeli newspapers on Sunday said the meeting between the two leaders was likely to be tense.

Yisrael Ziv, a retired Israeli major general writing in Israeli daily Maariv, said Netanyahu would be seeking a pledge of US military action against Iran, or tacit support for an Israeli strike.

But he warned that Israel and Washington continue to differ on the threat posed by Iran, the timeline for dealing with it, and the efficacy of sanctions.

"Netanyahu can try to secure from Obama a promise that the US will consider a more dramatic move after the elections," he wrote. "Netanyahu can secure American willingness to increase the political pressure and even threaten Tehran directly."

"He can squeeze out a vague statement from which it could be understood that if Israel were to go for an independent move, it would receive certain backing from Washington. That's as far as the gains are concerned."

But Netanyahu will not pledge that Israel will refrain from unilateral military action, Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Aharonot's US correspondent wrote.

"Senior political sources made it clear that Israel would not be willing to commit to not taking military action against Iran," wrote Orly Azulai.

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