By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, March 7 (Reuters) - Israel on Wednesday cautiously welcomed the planned resumption of big-power nuclear talks with Iran, insisting that Tehran be denied the means to turn uranium into bomb fuel.
With Israel speaking increasingly loudly of resorting to military action to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, the talks could provide some respite in a crisis that has driven up oil prices and threatened to suck the United States into its third major war in a decade.
Tuesday's announcement of new talks followed a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States, where President Barack Obama said the talks offered a diplomatic chance to quiet the "drums of war".
"I'm very happy that they are opening discussions," said Netanyahu's national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror.
"There will be no one happier than us, and the prime minister said this in his own voice, if it emerges that in these talks Iran will give up on its military nuclear capability," he told Israel Radio.
Taking up Iran's offer of talks with the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the powers sought assurances on "the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme, while respecting Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy".
A date and venue for the talks have yet to be agreed.
Past contacts with Tehran, whose often secretive nuclear projects have stirred foreign suspicions of a hidden bomb programme, stumbled in disputes over the scale of its uranium enrichment and stockpiling of the fissile material, which can power energy reactors and, if purified further, provide fuel for warheads.
Ahead of his White House meeting with Obama on Monday, Netanyahu demanded Iran's enrichment stop and its uranium with a higher than 3.5 percent purity, the level used for electricity generation, be removed.
Speaking separately to Israel's Army Radio, Netanyahu's cabinet secretary, Zvi Hauser, said those terms held.
Uranium bomb fuel must be enriched to 90 percent. Iran has significantly shortened any such leap in the future by enriching some of its uranium to 20 percent, saying this concentration was required to produce medical isotopes.
Netanyahu has also said Iran must dismantle an underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom, which experts say is designed to survive any air strikes, part of what Israel calls a "zone of immunity" being sought by Tehran.
Israel, widely believed to be the region's only nuclear power, has threatened to attack Iran's nuclear sites if they deem diplomacy at a dead end.
While not ruling out a U.S. military option, Obama has urged Israel not to hasten to war, saying Washington's interests were also at stake.
Iran's approach to the six world powers for talks comes as it suffers unprecedented economic pain from expanding oil and financial sanctions.
"It should be clear that without a real military alternative, the Iranians will not relent in the negotiations. And without there being a serious alternative, they will not enter the negotiations, and in any event there has to be readiness for the negotiations failing," Amidror said.
Netanyahu's spokesman Liran Dan said there had been no U.S. effort to veto or endorse any military action by Israel on Iran.
"A red light was not given. And if we're already talking about colours, then a green light was not given either," he said in remarks to both radio stations. "If there are red lines being discussed, they are not between us and the Americans, but rather, between the international community and Iran." (Editing by Janet Lawrence)
BEFORE YOU GO
06/19/2012 9:05 AM EDT
Moscow talks make little progress.
MOSCOW — A top Russian official made a last-ditch effort to save talks over Iran's nuclear program from collapse Tuesday, holding a meeting with Iran's chief envoy.
But diplomats said the negotiations remained deadlocked as they went into a second and possibly final day, with the presidents of the United States and Russia urging Iran to agree to curb nuclear activities that could be turned toward arming warheads and Iran demanding a lifting of sanctions crippling its oil industry.
Read more on HuffPost World.
06/18/2012 12:09 PM EDT
Iran, West start nuclear talks.
MOSCOW, June 18 (Reuters) - World powers began two days of talks with Iran on Monday to try to end a decade-long stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme and avert the threat of a new war in the Middle East.
In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran would be prepared to stop enriching uranium to a higher level - a process that could be used to make nuclear arms - if the six powers agreed to meet its needs for the fuel. But it is not clear how much influence Ahmadinejad has over the negotiations and whether his remarks reflect Tehran's position in the talks.
Read the full article on HuffPost World.
06/13/2012 6:50 PM EDT
All proposals on the table.
TEHRAN, Iran -- Proposals from both Iran and the group of six world powers will be on the table for nuclear talks in Moscow next week, not just the West's demand to halt Iran's highest level uranium enrichment, Iran's top negotiator said Wednesday.
Read more on HuffPost World.
06/08/2012 10:20 AM EDT
New round of nuke talks.
VIENNA, June 8 (Reuters) - Iran and the United Nations nuclear watchdog began a new round of talks on Friday in an attempt to seal a deal to resume a long-stalled probe into suspected atomic weapon research in the Islamic state.
Read the full story on HuffPost World.
06/08/2012 7:33 AM EDT
Ahmadinejad: 'Iran won't build nuclear bomb.'
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's president says Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons, but fear would not deter it if it decided to make them.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments suggest a toughening of Iran's position ahead of June 18-19 talks with world powers over Tehran's nuclear program.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany want Iran to shut down its highest level uranium enrichment facilities. Ahmadinejad's remarks suggest Iran would refuse.
Ahmadinejad made the comments during a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday in China. His remarks were posted on his website.
The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment. (AP)
06/06/2012 12:03 PM EDT
Smuggling of epic proportions
The BBC reports that $20 billion worth of goods -- the equivalent of nearly 30 percent of the country’s annual official trade -- are smuggled into Iran's borders every year.
Watch the full story here.
06/03/2012 3:11 PM EDT
Clinton draws no conclusions
STOCKHOLM — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she's not drawing any conclusions about what effect the latest hash words from Iran might have on the potential success of upcoming nuclear talks in Moscow.
05/31/2012 2:08 PM EDT
Iran's Forrest Gump.
Iranian-born Reza Baluchi is a regular Forrest Gump. Ten years ago he ran away from Iran. He’s run across the United States twice since then, once around its perimeter. Yet now he’s planning his biggest journey of all, CNN reports, a run around the world that will take him through his home country once more.
It started when he ran away from home at the age of eight. Later he ran away from his homeland, Iran, and spent seven years on a bicycle, pedaling 49,700 miles across 55 countries.
In 2002, he reached America. He now lives in a tent in Death Valley.
It's been nearly 10 years since Reza Baluchi escaped from Iran. He has run across the United States twice and around its perimeter once. He sets out on every journey with the same mission: to spread a message of world peace.
Read the full story here.
05/31/2012 2:01 PM EDT
Jackson Pollock painting returned.
After being seized by Iranian customs over a monetary dispute, a painting by Jackson Pollock has been returned to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran, the BBC reports.
Mural on Indian Red Ground was seized by the country's customs service on 11 May after being on loan to Japan.
The service said it confiscated the work over money owed by the Ministry of Culture, which runs the museum.
The ministry said the painting had been returned "after negotiations.”
Read the full story here.
05/29/2012 7:24 PM EDT
Dissident blogger in Iran.
Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, a 26-year-old Iranian dissident blogger, has spent the past 13 months in solitary confinement at Iran’s Evin Prison, BBC Persian reports.
International Business Times reports that Maleki has written a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, including the following passage:
“Leader of the Islamic Republic,
We must admit that judicial independence is not possible with the existence of so many intelligence and security entities.
We must admit that the society is facing a great explosion, and the current superficial peace is basically due to oppression, intimidation, imprisonments and suppression.
We must know that the thoughts of freedom seekers cannot be enchained! Ideologies cannot be tortured! Truth cannot be suppressed!”