NEW YORK – Iran’s state television reported Tehran was ready to engage in direct talks, only to retract the statement within hours in a move that appears to diminish the probability of any action before the White House’s September deadline.
If Iran does not accept by next month the Obama administration offer to engage in direct talks, the White House has threatened to seek increased U.N. economic sanctions.
Meanwhile, in a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Israeli President Shimon Peres disclosed that Israel has concrete proof Iran and Syria are delivering Russian-made weapons to terrorist organizations Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
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Reuters reported initially that Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, announced Tehran’s readiness “to take part in any negotiations with the West based on mutual respect.”
Within hours, Reuters reported Soltanieh had denied making any such statement, saying instead “Iran’s main policies are not changed and that is to pursue its peaceful nuclear activities within the framework of the IAEA.”
The incident made clear Iran has no intention of making any concessions on its nuclear program, even if it were to engage in direct talks.
The last time Iran engaged in talks with the six powers of the U.S., China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain was at the end of the Bush administration. At a July 2008 meeting in Geneva, U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns emphasized Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment must precede negotiations.
Obama has given Iran until September to accept an administration offer of direct talks on trade benefits that the administration is planning to offer in exchange for an Iranian agreement to cease uranium enrichment.
Iran has always insisted any direct negotiations with the West must have no preconditions.
Meeting with Medvedev in Russia yesterday, Peres stressed that an Iranian nuclear bomb would mean “a flying death camp,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
“The problem with Iran is not only the desire to produce nuclear weapons, but also the character of the regime,” Peres said. “From my point of view, a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands has only one meaning – a flying death camp.”
Peres stressed Israel’s conclusion that Iran is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
“The fact that Iran is investing billions of dollars in the development of long-range missiles, in parallel to its nuclear project is clear indication of its intent.”
Peres also objected to Russian sales of weapons to Middle Eastern countries hostile to Iran.
In 2007, Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile launchers to Iran in an estimated $1.4 billion dollar deal that allowed Iran to harden military defense systems around its nuclear facilities.
According to a statement on the meeting with Medvedev released by Peres’ office, Peres emphasized that the sale of weapons to Middle Eastern countries hostile to Israel “could damage the delicate balance of power in the region.”
Peres told Medvedev Israel has concrete proof Russian weapons are now being transferred to terrorist organizations by Iran and Syria.