Israel must learn to live with a nuclear Iran, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on Tuesday. Poland took over the rotating presidency of the European Union in July, and the nation plays an influential role in EU efforts to expand sanctions against Iran and thwart Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear ambitions.
Israel's ambassador to Poland, Zvi Rav-Ner, sent a telegram from Warsaw to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday saying that in a conversation with Sikorski, the Polish minister was highly pessimistic about Western activities against Iran.
"The military option is not realistic, and the Iranian nuclear program cannot be stopped," Rav-Ner said that Sikorski told him. "All of Iran's nuclear facilities are located between 200 and 300 meters underground."
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Sikorski also reportedly said that contemporary nuclear facilities are different from the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak that Israel destroyed in a 1981 airstrike. Sikorski also expressed doubt about tougher sanctions against Tehran. "Russia and China oppose the move, and may thwart it," he reportedly said.
When asked which measures would be effective against Iran, Sikorski told the Israeli diplomat, "You must to learn to live with a nuclear Iran, and create an effective deterrent." The minister then added jokingly, "After all, you yourself are a nuclear power."
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, but it maintains a policy of "nuclear ambiguity" and has never officially confirmed possessing them.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Arab officials on Monday convened in Vienna for a rare discussion on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Iran boycotted the meeting.
Participants described the first day of the Nov. 21-22 closed-door forum as less confrontational than the heated rhetoric that usually marks public debate about the sensitive issue, even though both sides largely stuck to old positions.
"The atmosphere is fine," said an Arab diplomat. "It seemed constructive," one European envoy said. Arab states, especially Syria, took aim at Israel over the atomic arsenal it is widely believed to possess.
For its part, Israel made clear its view that the region was not yet ready to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone and cited political instability, hostilities, deep mistrust as well as arch-foe Iran's boycott as reasons for this.
"Such a process can only be launched when normal peaceful relations exist in the region, when the threat perception of all regional members is low and only after basic confidence is established among states of the region," senior Israeli official David Danieli was quoted as telling the meeting.
Additional progress on sanctions
The EU on Wednesday agreed in principle to expand economic sanctions against Iran, one day after the U.S., France, Britain and Canada announced similar measures. The EU's final approval for sanctions is scheduled to be given on Dec. 1 at a gathering of EU foreign ministers.
U.S. President Barack Obama's top national security aide said on Tuesday that a U.S.-led drive to isolate Iran slowed its nuclear program and there was still "time, space and means" to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. His remarks may also serve as an appeal to Israel for more time to devise a diplomatic strategy amid growing speculation about a potential Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear sites.
Speculation about Israeli military moves against Iran has reached a fever pitch since the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report this month detailing the strongest evidence yet that Tehran is engaging in covert atomic weapons work.
"Iran today is fundamentally weaker, more isolated, more vulnerable and badly discredited than ever," U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said Tuesday. Donilon also said that after Iran rejected Obama's early diplomatic outreach and continued defying the international community, the U.S. had worked to ratchet up sanctions, strengthen military ties with Tehran's neighbors and increase its isolation. "The effect of these sanctions has been clear. Coupled with mistakes and difficulties in Iran, they have slowed Iran's nuclear efforts. Not only is it harder for Iran to proceed, it is more expensive," Donilon said.
Analysts said they did not believe the latest punitive steps would be any more effective in dissuading Iran from pursuing its nuclear plans. Though Iran has acknowledged some economic damage, it dismissed the new sanctions, saying they would only boost popular support for a nuclear program it insists is solely for peaceful purposes.
The range of unilateral steps planned by Western powers reflects the difficulty of persuading Russia and China not to veto further sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. While the West has been reluctant to deal too harshly with one of the world's biggest oil producers because of the risk to world markets, Donilon said, "We are certainly not ruling out additional steps against Iran's banking sector, including the central bank."
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