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Possible Washington-Tehran Talks after U.S. Presidential Elections: Israel
    2008-10-24 06:41:15     Xinhua

By Xu Gang

Israel is making discussions on future U.S.-Iranian ties with some concerns and worries over possible direct talks between Washington and Tehran if Senator Barack Obama wins the U.S. presidential elections.

Israel expects Washington to initiate direct talks with Iran if Obama is elected president, in which case a critical Israeli interest would be to condition any talks between the West and Iran on halting uranium enrichment, daily Ha'aretz has quoted a senior government source as saying.

According to the source, discussions have been underway for months among officials from Israel's Foreign Ministry, the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Security Council, the intelligence agency Mossad and the Defense Ministry, and some academic experts, which were coordinated by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also the ruling Kadima party chairwoman and the prime minister- designate, said the source.

The discussions studied a number of scenarios between Iran and the West, one of which held that following an Obama win, the new U. S. president will start a dialogue with Iran to pressure it to stop its nuclear program.

Obama has said in his first debate with Senator John McCain that the U.S. had to enter tough direct talks with the Iranians as attempts to isolate Tehran only speed up its progress toward nuclearization.

Israel has no knowledge at present that Obama intends to present pre-conditions to dialogue with the Iranians, which is of great concern to Israel, said Ha'aretz.

The United States, Israel and their Western allies accuse Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons, but Iran insists that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

According to another scenario, after the U.S. elections, and perhaps even before them, Iran would announce its agreement to the plan for a way forward proposed by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, known as the six powers, a few months ago.

Under the plan, uranium enrichment and sanctions would end simultaneously and talks would begin within 45 days on complete suspension of enrichment in exchange for a package of incentives from the West.

"The evaluation in Israel is that these two scenarios are possible in the next six months," said the source, who took part in the discussions.

The source said that in the course of strategic planning it was made clear that "Israel would have to avoid a situation in which the international community entered into dialogue and real negotiations with Iran while giving up the condition of stopping enrichment, and that this had to be emphasized to the six powers."

Ahead of the annual evaluation by Israeli Foreign Ministry held about two weeks ago, a document was written on the subject of the scenarios which was not presented to a wide forum because of concern over leaks that would compromise international efforts against Iran, according to local TV Channel 10.

Ha'aretz also reported that over the past two months Israeli Foreign Ministry has put together a four-pronged plan for a new diplomatic campaign against Iran.

The plan divides activities on Iran into four teams that will advise Israeli diplomatic missions worldwide.

The team charged with diplomatic action against the nuclearization of Iran will consist primarily of personnel from the strategic wing of Israeli Foreign Ministry and will cooperate with other bodies in the defense establishment. It will focus on increasing international pressure on Iran.

The team tasked with Iran's economic isolation will discuss divesting from Iran, cancelling deals, particularly on energy, boycotting Iranian banks and increasing monitoring of Iranian money in foreign banks.

Another team will work to isolate Iran in areas other than the nuclear program, highlighting issues of human rights, Iranian support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and organizing rallies during visits by senior Iranian officials.

A fourth team will deal with issues of public diplomacy -- writing articles in leading newspapers around the world, conducting press briefings, engaging in public relations efforts against Iran on university campuses, and disseminating intelligence against Iran in the media.

In response to the Ha'aretz report, Emily Landau, senior research associate at The Institute for National Security Studies, told a Thursday press briefing in Tel Aviv that Israel appears to make preparation for the scenario in which the new U.S. president, Obama or McCain, will start talks with Iran.

She, however, noted that no serious action has been taken so far in response to Iran's nuclear program and international efforts have been going nowhere.

Iran, which is "determined" to have nuclear weapons, is currently carrying on its nuclear program in defiance of international community, she said.

Landau described the Iran nuclear program as a very serious issue, saying Iran is not only a regional threat but also a global one -- an opinion often reiterated by top Israeli leaders.

Ha'aretz held that if the U.S. initiates direct talks with Iran if Obama is elected president, it means Israel will not attack Iran's nuclear facilities and must get used to the reality of the U.S. dialogue with Tehran.

Israel should keep an eye on its interests in the event of a possible U.S-Iranian dialogue, rather than live with the mistaken illusion it can unilaterally put a stop to Iran's nuclear program, said Ha'aretz.

However, more to the point is that both the U.S. and Israel evaluate that Iran is not yet approaching the nuclear threshold.

Isaac Ben-Israel, a member of Knesset (parliament) from the ruling Kadima party, told local newspaper Maariv that Livni believes that if Iran's nuclear program is not stopped by the world, Israel will have no choice but to attack."

But Israel still has time, said Ben-Israel, adding "it doesn't mean we're going to bomb in three months."

According to the lawmaker, Iran needs another year and a half ortwo years to overcome technical problems and will attain its first nuclear device in another two to three years. Until then, there is time to bring more international pressure to bear on Iran.

Mohammed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said on Monday that Iran remains far from acquiring capabilities to develop nuclear weapons as it is still lacking the key components to produce an atomic weapon.

"They do not have even the nuclear material, the raw unenriched uranium to develop one nuclear weapon if they decide to do so," said the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency.



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