Thursday, January 27, 2005

Israel may attack Iran N-facilities


By Anne Penketh

LONDON: The Israeli defence minister yesterday refused to rule out a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities as he said that Tehran was “close to a point of no return” on its suspected development of a nuclear weapon.

At a meeting with journalists in London, Shaul Mofaz did little to dispel the sense of unease caused by comments last week by US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, who suggested that Israel might “decide to act first” to put an end to the Iranian nuclear threat.

“I believe that none of the Western countries can live with Iran having a nuclear capability - not the US, not the European countries and nor other countries,” he said.

But he stressed that the “first step” should be through diplomatic channels to resolve the stand-off with Iran, which is suspected by the US and Israel of using its civilian programme as a cover for weapons development.

“The way to stop Iran is by the leadership of the US, supported by European countries and taking this issue to the UN, and using the diplomatic channel with sanctions as a tool and a very deep inspection regime and full transparency.”

Asked what Israel would do if diplomatic channels failed, Mofaz went on: “The US is a strong power that can stop any kind of nuclear programme, especially in the hands of an extreme regime.”

Mofaz left no doubt, however, that he was sceptical about the outcome of negotiations with the Iranian government, which he said had been “buying time” through its talks with Britain, France and Germany.

He warned that Tehran was “less than a year” from enriching uranium, which he described as the “point of no return” towards making a nuclear weapon. He echoed comments by the Mossad intelligence agency, which said that Iran could have developed a nuclear bomb in three years, a statement dismissed by Iran as baseless.

Mofaz rejected Iranian assertions that it is working on a peaceful civilian programme.

The Iranian president, Mohamed Khatami, yesterday reacted to the aggressive statements emanating from the Bush administration, which has branded Iran part of so-called “outposts of tyranny.” Cheney said Iran’s nuclear programme put it at the “top of the list” of global issues.

Khatami retorted: “We say that America is at the top of the list of countries which are endangering world peace and security and we hope that one day they come to their senses.”

“(Negotiations with the EU) haven’t reached a dead end,” Khatami went on.

“Of course, we have our own stances and we are talking to the Europeans and we hope to reach a conclusion.” – The Independent



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