Reports: Israelis, Iranians Held Secret Nuclear Meeting in Cairo

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iran-israelIsraeli and Iranian officials discussed nuclear issues in the Middle East during a Cairo conference last month, according to media reports today. Israel Radio, however, quoted an Iranian nuclear official as denying the report. He said that there was no meeting, direct or indirect, between Israeli and Iranian officials.Reuters had reported that the brief meeting took place during at a Middle East disarmament conference on September 29-30.

An Israeli official quoted by Reuters said that the exchange had taken place during an open session, when Iranian delegate Ali Ashghar Soltanieh had asked his Israeli counterpart, Meirav Zafary-Odiz a question about Israel’s nuclear capabilities.

“She gave her answers, and later the Israeli delegation addressed a question in the same vein to the Iranians, which was answered,” the official was quoted as saying.

AFP quoted Israeli Atomic Energy Commission representative Yael Doron as confirming the meeting, which she said took place during a session organized by Australia. “These meetings were held behind closed doors,” Doron was further quoted as saying. She did not give any additional details.

Also today, French Defense Minister Herve Morin said that the French and Israeli armies regularly swap information on Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have to know what’s going on, so we exchange our information,” Morin said.

Morin was responding to a question on RTL radio about a reported Paris meeting two weeks ago between the French, Israeli and US armies. He did not respond directly to that claim, saying only that France consults “happily” with its partners.

Morin’s comments, and news of the Israeli-Iranian meeting, broke a day after reports that Iranian negotiators had expressed support for a deal that – if accepted by their leaders – would delay Teheran’s ability to build nuclear weapons by sending most of its known existing enriched uranium to Russia for processing.

Both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry had no comment on the development, saying it was premature to discuss, since all that was being talked about at this time was a draft.

Haaretz reports that Meirav Zafary-Odiz and Ali Asghar Soltanieh met at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo under the auspices of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Also attending were representatives of the Arab League, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, along with European and American officials.

The ICNND was set up by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and it is chaired by a former foreign minister of Australia, Gareth Evans, and a former foreign minister of Japan, Yoriko Kawaguchi. Former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami sits on the advisory committee of the organization.

The meetings were held behind closed doors, and all participants committed to complete secrecy, to allow a full and frank discussion. However, the fact of the meeting was leaked by Australian sources to the Australian daily The Age.

The Israel Atomic Energy Commission confirmed that such a meeting did take place but refused to comment.

The exchanges between the Iranian and Israeli representatives took place within three panel sessions, each dealing with one of the issues with which the ICNND is concerned – declaring the Middle East a nuclear-free zone, preventing nuclear proliferation in the region and matters of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The two did not meet or shake hands outside the sessions. In one of the discussions, Soltanieh directly asked Zafary-Odiz – and eyewitnesses say he spoke in an impassioned voice, “Do you or do you not have nuclear weapons?” Zafary-Odiz smiled, but did not respond.

During the meetings, Zafary-Odiz explained the Israeli policy of being willing, in principle, to discuss the Middle East as a nuclear-free zone. She also detailed Israel’s unique strategic situation, saying regional security must be strengthened, security arrangements must be agreed upon and a peace agreement must be sealed before Israel would feel at liberty to discuss this topic.

Zafary-Odiz said Israel lived in a complex geopolitical reality, noting that in three decades, four countries in the region broke their commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria. She said Israel takes a responsible approach to the nuclear issue as a whole, and that the far horizon of its vision did include the possibility of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, even if the chances for this were slim.

Soltanieh defended his country’s policy, and said Iran was not striving for nuclear armament and did not endanger Israel. He said Israel did not understand the mentality and ideology of the Tehran regime. He said the regime did not oppose or hate Jews, but was merely politically opposed to Zionism. He said Iran’s growing arsenal of missiles was for defensive, not offensive, purposes.

Israel and Iran have refrained from all direct and indirect diplomatic contact since 1979.

Meanwhile, French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Thursday that the French and Israeli armies regularly swap information on Iran’s nuclear program.

“e have to know what’s going on so we exchange our information,” said Morin, responding to a question on RTL radio Thursday about a reported
Paris meeting two weeks ago between the French, Israeli and U.S. armies.

He did not respond directly to that claim, saying only that France “consults happily with its partners”.

The remarks came a day after a draft agreement in Vienna with Iran, France, Russia and the United States that foresees the export of Iran’s low enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment to power a Tehran research reactor.

 {JPost/Haaretz/AP/AFP/Reuters/Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}

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