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Iran Nuclear Deal In Peril.

The FT on July 26 quoted Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran's former ambassador to Paris and an influential pragmatist, as saying Israel's assault on Lebanon could complicate attempts to reach a settlement on Iran's nuclear programme but added that Tehran was still open to compromise. Kharrazi said Israel's attempt to crush Hizbullah was failing.

Kharrazi said Israel had handed "an outstanding opportunity" to Hizbullah. But he expressed concern that Israel would try to fan sectarian conflict, or even civil war, in Lebanon, by demanding that the Beirut government disarm the Shi'ite group. He added: "A civil war would be a disaster for Lebanon, dangerous for all countries in the Middle East, with many consequences. It could, for example, drag in Syria".

Kharrazi dismissed US and Israeli claims that Hizbollah was the tool of Iran. He said he believed Tehran had no prior knowledge of Hizbollah's seizure of two Israeli soldiers and insisted the crisis did not benefit Iran, saying: "Hizbullah is a symbol of resistance in Lebanon and very popular in Arab countries. Some people in the region believe America wants Israel to destroy Hizbullah and that this shows it wants to destroy Iran. There are neo-conservatives in the US, and people in the defence and intelligence services, who think like this".

Despite his removal last year as ambassador to Paris, Kharrazi retains access to the highest figures in Iran and remains an advocate of compromise. Reportedly the author of a letter sent by Tehran in 2003 to Washington proposing improved relations, he was also a key figure in nuclear negotiations with the EU. Kharrazi insisted that negotiations remained the only way to bring stability in the Middle East. He said: "On both sides, neo-conservatives are strong. But neo-conservatives cannot make decisions for everyone". On Israel-Palestine, he reaffirmed that Iran would back a two-state solution if the Palestinians accepted that, while warning that the PA was an administration "under the pressure of Israel...[that] can do very little". On Iran's nuclear programme, he stressed that Iran would not give up its right to uranium enrichment, a process which the UNSC has insisted it suspend before any talks. But he said Tehran would accept a drastic limit on the number of its centrifuges, the devices used for enriching uranium, and outlined a position far closer to the Europeans' than any Iranian official has backed in public.

Kharrazi said: "The Europeans need objective guarantees, which for them means suspension, or cessation, of uranium enrichment for the long term, like five years. [But] if the Europeans give us a plan for Iran to have a very small enrichment - some 100 centrifuges - that could have no link to a nuclear bomb, just for research and under [the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency] supervision, I think this would be well considered by the Iranian authorities". That would be linked, he said, to the Russian plan "for full enrichment" outside Iran.

The alternative to a deal, Kharrazi said, was unfavourable for both: sanctions could not exert major pressure on Iran, and US or Israeli military strikes on its nuclear facilities would produce "great unity among Iranians, who are very nationalist", and lead to Iranian retaliation. He argued that the US would sooner or later have to accept "the reality" of Iran's geo-political power. "It's true there are strong ideologies in the politics of Iran and the US. But the Americans cannot remove the Iranians from the map of the region nor remove Iran's influence from the different movements and nations". But the US has a totally different Middle East perspective.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jul 31, 2006
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