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Israeli Defense Chief Has Message for Iran

Jewish state is preparing military action to halt nuclear efforts, but talks are preferred, he says.

January 22, 2006|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel's defense minister hinted Saturday that the Jewish state was preparing for military action to stop Iran's nuclear program, but he said international diplomacy must be the first course of action.

"Israel will not be able to accept an Iranian nuclear capability, and it must have the capability to defend itself, with all that that implies, and this we are preparing," Shaul Mofaz said.

His comments at an academic conference stopped short of overtly threatening a military strike but were likely to add to growing tensions with Iran.

French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that France could respond with nuclear weapons against any state-sponsored terrorist attack.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Saturday that Chirac's threats reflected the true intentions of nuclear-armed nations, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"The French president uncovered the covert intentions of nuclear powers in using this lever [of nuclear weapons] to determine political games," IRNA quoted Asefi as saying.

Israel long has identified Iran as its biggest threat and accuses Tehran of pursuing nuclear weapons. Iran says its atomic program is solely for energy production.

Iran broke U.N. seals at a uranium-enrichment plant this month and said it was resuming nuclear research after a 2 1/2 -year freeze. Germany, France and Britain said two days later that talks aimed at halting Iran's nuclear progress were at a dead end and called for Iran's referral to the U.N. Security Council.

Israel's Mofaz said sanctions and international oversight of Iran's nuclear program stood as the "correct policy at this time."

Israeli leaders have repeatedly said they hope the crisis can be resolved through diplomacy, and they say any military action would have to be part of an international effort. They have denied having plans for a unilateral preventive strike.

Israel's concerns about Iran have grown since the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said last year that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

On Friday, the Iranian Students News Agency reported Friday that Central Bank Governor Ebrahim Sheibani said Iran had begun moving its foreign currency reserves from European banks as protection against possible U.N. sanctions. Sheibani backed away Saturday from his statement that the transfers were already underway.

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