When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad purportedly said that Israel "should be wiped off the map" there were, and still are, many who argue that the Iranian leader was misquoted or mistranslated. No such argument can be made however regarding the latest comments by the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces.
According to the Iranian Fars news agency, while addressing a defense gathering in Tehran on Sunday, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi stressed that the Iranian nation remains committed to the "full annihilation of the Zionist regime of Israel to the end."
According to Fars, Firouzabadi "reiterated the Iranian nation and supreme leader's emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes," and noted, "The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel."
The top military official reminded those present that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei considers "defending Palestine a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation," Fars reported.
Firouzabadi went on to say, "Iran's leader, Ali Khamenei, will never recognize any authority in Palestine other than the Palestinians."
Meanwhile, the head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, landed in Tehran on Monday morning to begin a delicate mission that — if successful — could finally lift the veil on Iran's nuclear program ahead of crucial talks with six world powers in Baghdad on Wednesday. The purpose of Amano's trip is to get Iran to agree to terms that would allow the nuclear watchdog to resume inspections in Iran and investigate whether Tehran has secretly worked to develop nuclear arms.
Israel remained skeptical an agreement would be reached between Tehran and the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), warning that it did not sense readiness on Iran's part to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
One senior Israeli diplomat said Israel "hopes the West doesn't acquiesce to Iran in exchange for a piece of paper."
"Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] is skeptical about the dialogue with Iran and hopes negotiators realize it wants to sacrifice a pawn in order to save the king in the chess game it is playing," the diplomat said.
While expressing some optimism as he prepared to board his flight Sunday from Vienna to Tehran, Amano said he could not predict whether a deal would be reached to allow his agency to renew its stalled probe.
"Nothing is certain in life, in diplomacy," he told reporters at Vienna's airport. "But there has been good progress. I really think this is the right time to reach agreement."
Amano's lead partner in the Tehran talks will be Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, who will also lead his country's delegation to Baghdad.
Some Western diplomats have also expressed doubts that Iran would honor any deal suddenly granting the IAEA access to sites, people and documents, pointing out that Tehran has stonewalled the agency's efforts since 2007. The diplomats say Tehran is seeking to score points ahead of the Baghdad talks this week, by referring to a deal with the IAEA as a goodwill gesture and demanding that the impending Iranian oil embargo be called off.
Ahead of the Baghdad talks, diplomats told The Associated Press that the six powers agree that they won't give in to such demands. World powers "are unified in our approach to Iran," U.S. President Barack Obama said at the G-8 meeting last week.
Another Western diplomat told Reuters, "We'll see if the Iranians will allow IAEA inspectors to visit Parchin [the military facility where the West believes Iran has conducted nuclear explosion–related tests]. It doesn't matter what appears in the agreement, I would still be skeptical."
However, not everyone believes the West is taking a hard enough line with Iran.
"On Iran, President Obama has dangled plenty of carrots. It’s time to pull out some sticks," wrote Jamie Fly, former adviser to the George. W. Bush administration, and Matthew Kroenig, a former Pentagon defense planner, in a recent Washington Post article.
"Despite the optimism that came out of the negotiations last month in Istanbul, there is little reason to believe that Iran is serious about doing anything other than using the coming weeks to enrich more uranium and make progress toward a nuclear weapon," wrote Fly and Kroenig.
According to some reports, the six superpowers will attempt to get Iran to transfer all uranium enriched to levels of 20 percent out of the country by offering to help Iran build its own nuclear program for civilian purposes — including supplying nuclear fuel for a civilian research plant near Tehran, as well as technical safety consultants. If such an agreement is signed, the West will continue to make gestures toward Iran but will not cancel significant economic sanctions until a final deal is reached.
"Not every deal will be satisfactory for us," said Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) on Sunday. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beitenu) said Israel was awaiting the outcome of the talks in Baghdad and reiterated that Israel does not believe Iran is ready to relinquish its nuclear program.
"For Iran the talks are a matter of deception and buying time," Lieberman said. "I don't think the international community has any illusions regarding the Iranian [nuclear] program."
In her first meeting with President Shimon Peres as opposition leader, Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said Sunday that the United States and the superpowers must be allowed to lead the front against Iran.
Iran, for its part, was conveying conflicting messages about Amano's visit. One senior Iranian parliamentarian called it "a testament to the sensitive nature of the diplomacy surrounding Iran's nuclear program [that] could positively influence the talks with the six powers."
On the other hand, in an interview with CNN, Iran's finance minister warned that global oil prices would rise and could reach up to $160 per barrel once the EU embargo takes effect in early July.