Friday, February 26, 2010

US, Israel Resume "Strategic Dialogue" on Iran

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Agence France Presse (AFP) /

The United States and Israel held a "strategic dialogue" on Thursday over Iran's nuclear programme for the first time since US President Barack Obama took office, officials said. US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to pick up the regular consultations that were held during the preceding Bush administration. "The dialogue provided an opportunity for in-depth discussion of a range of regional and international issues, thereby further strengthening the close strategic cooperation between the two countries," the foreign ministry said after the meeting. Another round of talks would take place in Washington later in the year, it added. Israeli officials had said the talks would focus primarily on Iran's nuclear programme, which Israel considers its greatest strategic threat. Meanwhile, a US official described the consultations as a "regularly scheduled annual dialogue" covering a range of regional and security issues not tied to specific events. The meeting came during a visit to the United States by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in which he was to meet with several top US officials.

Israel has called for tough international sanctions on Iran's energy sector to persuade Tehran to halt its nuclear enrichment programme, which Israel and the West suspect is aimed at creating an atomic weapon. Iran has insisted the programme is purely for civilian purposes. Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, has viewed Iran as its greatest threat because of the nuclear issue and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated predictions of the Jewish state's demise. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she hoped to see a UN Security Council resolution on new sanctions against the Islamic republic in the next two months. Washington has warned that "time and patience is running out" after Iran announced last week that it is considering building two more uranium enrichment plants inside mountains to protect them from air strikes. Iran, however, has at the same time told the UN nuclear watchdog it is still prepared to buy fuel for a nuclear reactor or swap its own stockpile of low-enriched uranium for the fuel, but on its own territory.