Published on: TV channel ARD, October 22 2009

ARD_Nukleargespräche mit Israel_091022

Have there been direct negotiations of Iran with Israel?
Confusion about an alleged meeting between arch enemies.
Iran strongly rejected media reports on direct nuclear talks with Israel. Those were “lies”, said Ali Shirzadian, spokesman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency. Shirzadian was quoted saying that the respective information that was provided by an Australian newspaper were part of a strategy of psychological warfare in an attempt to damage the successful Iranian diplomacy displayed at international nuclear talks.

On the other hand, merely attenuated denials were made by Israel. Meirav Zafary-Odiz of the Israeli Atomic Energy Agency confirmed to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (German Press Agency) that she attended a meeting on nuclear disarmament in Cairo in September, where Iran was also present. However, Yael Doron, spokeswoman for the agency, tried to downplay the significance of the conference: There was no direct interaction between the representatives of Israel and Iran. “He has spoken, she has spoken, but there was no dialogue,” she said.

The spokeswoman of the Israeli Atomic Energy Agency announced that there had been neither meetings nor direct talks between the delegates of the two countries.

“Tough exchange of views” between Iran and Jerusalem?
The Australian newspaper “The Age” had previously reported that during the two-day conference in Cairo a “though exchange of views” had taken place between both delegations. The paper referred to participants of the event that was hosted by Australia.

According to information provided by the Israeli Newspaper “Ha’aretz”, a meeting had taken place where possibilities of declaring the Near East a nuclear arms free zone and prevent the spread of nuclear arms were discussed. During the plenary sessions, the Iranian ambassador is said to have asked the Israeli nuclear expert whether Israel possesses nuclear weapons or not, whereupon the Israeli delegate had smiled but not replied.

Israel – the undeclared nuclear power
Among the participants of the conference, which took place on September 29 and 30, were representatives of the Arab League, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, as well as U.S. representatives. In case the reports will be confirmed, these were the first talks between Jerusalem and Tehran of that kind since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Nuclear politics in Israel and Iran:
Israel has never officially admitted possessing nuclear weapons. For reasons of deterrence, though, the country since the 1960s has repeatedly hinted that it has such weapons. According to estimates by U.S. scientists, the state possesses 80 nuclear warheads. Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore is not subject to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran has begun to construct nuclear reactors in the 1970s. However, after the Islamic Revolution the work came to an end, and was resumed only in the 1990s. In 2003, the regime announced that Iran was enriching uranium and producing nuclear fuel. Since then, there have been repeated controverses with the IAEA. In September, news emerged about Iran building a new nuclear enrichment plant.

Published in “Der Standard” (Austria) on October 22 2009

An Iranian official directly addressing an Israeli official – that’s pretty audacious
No, it was not “the first Israeli-Iranian nuclear talks”, as agencies had called it on Thursday in a slightly pertly manner. During a multilateral nuclear conference in Cairo, Israeli and Iranian representatives had been sitting at one table and talked to each other – and that is by no means nothing, even though it is miles away from being a “nuclear talk”.

However, nothing beyond the expected has been said in Cairo. Iran addressed Israel’s nuclear weapons and pointed out their own peaceful intentions; Israel, on the other hand, recalled that Iran would not be the first country in the region to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty while at the same time wanting to get nuclear weapons.

Of course, Israeli and Iranian officials regularly meet – and normally avoid – each other on occasions of international forums. However, there is this institution of mostly utterly secret so-called “Track Two”-events, attended by officials who are not so much in the focus, often even representatives of already retired administrations. The context, which is mostly multilateral, allows the participants to unobtrusively scan each other and lateron report their impressions to their governments – something which is actually intended.

Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iran’s president and something like a Stalinist turnaround is taking place in the country, all this has become much more difficult. All the more amazing that in Cairo both sides exchanged views in front of witnesses: An Iranian official addressing an Israeli official: that’s a pretty audacious thing to do.
(Gudrun Harrer/DER STANDARD, Printausgabe, 23.10.2009)