OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/TEHRAN: Israel’s president said Sunday he would be willing to meet his Iranian counterpart if it would help reduce Mideast tensions, adding that he hoped the world’s nuclear standoff with the Islamic Republic could be resolved peacefully.
Addressing a business conference, President Shimon Peres said it was critical that the international community use the coming six months of negotiations with Iran to ensure it “doesn’t become a nuclear danger to the rest of the world.”
Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israeli leaders have voiced skepticism about the world’s recent interim deal with Iran. Under that deal, Iran agreed to freeze most of its suspect nuclear program in exchange for relief from painful international economic sanctions while a permanent agreement is negotiated.
In Washington Saturday, President Barack Obama acknowledged the chances of reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran were no better than 50-50, a startling admission given his leading role in negotiating the interim deal.
“The problem is what will happen in the coming six months,” Peres said.
“There is no argument that we prefer a diplomatic solution. No one wants to run and shoot.”
Asked whether he would be willing to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Peres said: “Why not? I don’t have enemies.”
But Peres said Rouhani’s influence was limited and noted there are other hard-line elements in Iran that may not support his outreach to the West: “The purpose is to convert enemies into friends. If it was only him I’d take it with greater assurance but there are other structures, other people.”
Given the years of deep animosity between the two countries, any such meeting is highly unlikely.
In keeping with the interim deal ironed out by world powers on Nov. 24, U.N. nuclear inspectors inspected Iran’s Arak heavy water plant Sunday for the first time since summer 2011.
The international community is concerned that the half-built site at Arak may have a military purpose.
The one-day inspection of the site 240 kilometers southwest of Tehran was carried out by two experts, led by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Iran task force, Massimo Aparo, but no details were immediately available.
The two IAEA inspectors arrived Saturday and went straight into talks with Iranian nuclear officials.
After the meeting, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said Tehran had provided IAEA with “required information on ongoing research” about its new generation of centrifuges that enrich uranium by spinning it at supersonic speed.
Tehran insists its activities are entirely peaceful and says the Arak reactor would create isotopes for medical and agricultural use.
Quoted by the ISNA news agency, senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said Tehran and the P5+1 group – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany – are to start discussions on implementation of the interim six-month deal.
The two-day meeting at the level of experts begins Monday in Vienna.
Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief said Sunday that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries should be included in the upcoming talks.
“I suggest that the negotiations on Iran not be limited to the P5+1,” Prince Turki al-Faisal said.
“The Gulf Cooperation Council must be involved,” added the influential Saudi royal, who has also served as ambassador in both the United States and Britain.
“ Iran is in the Gulf and any military effort will affect us all, let alone the environmental impact” Tehran’s uranium enrichment program could have on the region, he said at the Manama Dialogue, a forum on Middle East security.
Saudi Arabia had cautiously welcomed last month’s deal.