Monday, November 07, 2005

Iran Tries Charm to Counter Israel Remarks

Yahoo News:

By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer

Sun Nov 6, 9:24 PM ET

Facing continued criticism for its president's call for Israel's destruction, Iran launched a charm offensive Sunday by proposing resumed nuclear talks with Europe, saying it allowed U.N. inspectors to visit a sensitive military facility and pledging to boost relations with former enemy Iraq.

Still, Tehran's diplomatic spat with Italy over the anti-Israel remarks worsened, with Rome warning Iran it risked isolating itself from the international community by denying the "right to exist to another state and other people."

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" has increased international pressure against Iran. It also overshadows a crucial Nov. 24 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, which threatens to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.

On Sunday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, tried some damage control, calling for resumed negotiations on the program with Britain, Germany and France, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Talks collapsed in August after Tehran rejected an incentives package in return for permanently ending uranium enrichment, which it voluntarily suspended in 2004 under a deal with the Europeans.

Larijani sent letters to the embassies of the three countries and called "for constructive and logical negotiations in the framework of respective conventions and regulations of International Atomic Energy Agency," IRNA said.

He also reiterated Iran's right to continue its nuclear activities in line with international treaties, such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters that Iran had let IAEA inspectors visit the Parchin military site about 20 miles southeast of Tehran. U.S. officials say that site may be part of Iran's nuclear arms research program.

"They had visited Parchin before (but) this time they asked to visit other areas of the site," said Asefi, adding the experts also met senior Iranian nuclear officials. "What they have done in Iran has been in the framework of the NPT."

The visit took place during the inspectors' weeklong trip to Iran that began Oct. 28. Inspectors wanted to make further checks of radioactivity in buildings and areas inside the sprawling military complex. Their last site visit in January revealed no such traces.

Iran got a boost from traditional ally India, which said Sunday it might vote against an IAEA resolution that is more critical of Tehran. India shocked Iran by joining the United States, Britain and other nations in backing the IAEA resolution in September.

But India Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh said Sunday that if a more critical resolution is put forward, "my recommendation to the government will be to revise our vote."

Also Sunday, Ahmadinejad told visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi that Tehran supports Iraq's territorial integrity and believes a powerful government in Baghdad is in Iran's interests. He also called for expediting the construction of an oil pipeline and railway between the once-bitter enemies.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that establishing peace and security in Iraq requires having a powerful government with popular support more than anything else," Ahmadinejad was quoted on television as telling Chalabi.

Relations between Iran and Iraq have improved markedly since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, who led Iraqi forces into an eight-year war with Iran that ended in 1988 and killed more than 1 million people on both sides.

An Iraqi Airways passenger flight arrived Sunday in Tehran, the first flight between the countries in 25 years, and an official said scheduled twice-weekly flights would resume next week.

Ahmadinejad's call for Israel's destruction has angered many nations, including Italy, where pro-Israel supporters protested outside Iran's embassy in Rome last week. Italy's foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, condemned Ahmadinejad's remarks and urged the international community to protect Israel.

Asefi slammed Fini on Sunday, telling reporters his comments were "not compatible with the role of foreign minister and with the glory and honor of the Italian nation." Italy's Foreign Ministry responded, saying Fini "certainly cannot accept lessons on conduct coming from a foreign (ministry) spokesman."

"No one wants to isolate Iran," the Italian statement added. "On the contrary we all hope that Tehran, adopting responsible conduct, wants to play a role of stabilization in its region, but it is Iran which inevitably isolates itself in the moment it denies the right to exist to another state and other people." ___ Associated Press reporter Maria Sanminiatelli in Rome contributed to this report.


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