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Israelis quietly question U.S. resolve against Iran
Tue Aug 4, 2009 3:41pm EDT
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By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is encouraged by recent U.S. vows to curb Iran's nuclear program, but still questions whether the Obama administration is willing to make good on the pledge "no matter what," an Israeli official said on Tuesday.
The timeline and tenor of Washington's bid to talk Tehran into abandoning atomic projects with bomb-making potential have stirred concern in Israel, which backs the diplomacy but has also hinted at last-resort pre-emptive strikes against its foe.
Visiting Israel last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates promoted President Barack Obama's late-September deadline for an Iranian response to the overture.
The Americans have said any dialogue should show progress by year's end, and threatened "crippling" sanctions against Iran if the deadlock continues.
Asked to characterize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's confidence following the talks with Gates and U.S. national security adviser Jim Jones, who also visited last week, a senior official said: "Slightly better than it was before."
"There is a sense that the administration is ready to consider moving from Plan A, engagement with Iran, to Plan B, confrontation," the Israeli official told Reuters.
But he added: "Are you (United States) willing to confront this, no matter what? That's the question that's going to remain out there."
Iran has rejected calls to curb its uranium enrichment, saying the program is for legitimate energy needs. Israel believes Iran could be just months away from producing enough bomb-grade uranium for a warhead. Western intelligence estimates see such a capability being a few years away.
The chief analyst for Israeli military intelligence cast doubt on the prospects of any U.S.-led talks with Iran.
"Iran is ready for dialogue, but it is our understanding that such a dialogue would be generalized only," Brigadier-General Yossi Baidatz told a parliamentary panel on Tuesday, according to an official transcript.
"Iran would not be prepared to discuss its right to develop what it claims is a civilian nuclear program on Iranian soil."
Baidatz further saw "an increased atmosphere, internationally, of acceptance of the fact that Iran is capable of becoming nuclear Iran."
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported the Americans had unveiled plans to toughen up current international sanctions against Iran, including with measures targeting its refined oil imports, should the September deadline go unmet.
The Israeli official said he was not aware of such a detailed plan but predicted U.S.-led efforts to step up sanctions could gather pace early next year. Continued...
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