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Monday, December 18, 2006

Mossad chief: Iran will have nuclear bomb by 2009-2010

Last update - 20:33 18/12/2006   
 Mossad chief: Iran will have nuclear bomb by 2009-2010 
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent and the Associated Press 

The head of the Mossad espionage agency, Meir Dagan, on Monday told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons by 2009 or 2010.

He said that Iran in June began serious efforts to enrich uranium, and aspires in 2007 to acquire another 3,000 centrifuges, which will be located in bunkers.

Dagan also told MKs that there was no need to take seriously any Syrian overtures regarding peace talks.
"Every time [Syrian President Bashar] Assad comes under international pressure, he comes up with some speech about his readiness to hold peace negotiations with us."

Dagan said Syria is not prepared to return to the negotiating table with Israel despite declarations by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.

"I don't truly see Syria offering to renew negotiations with Israel," he said. "They have their public comments, but have made no attempt to ask the United Sates and Europe to try to advance the political process."

Iran envoy: Return of Golan to Syria is our goal too

The Iranian ambassador to Damscus Hassan Akhtari said in an interview published on Monday that "returning the Golan Heights [to Syrian hands] is also an Iranian objective."

Speaking to the London-based Al Hayat Arab language newspaper, Akhtari said "the issue of Syrian participation in a peaceful retrieval of the Golan Heights has been on the agenda since the days of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad. Returning the Golan is not an exclusive Syrian objective, it is also an Iranian goal," he said.

Akhtari's comments are uncommon in their explicitness, as Tehran is usually careful in making statements about Israel-Syria negotiations. Those urging Israel to renew its dialogue with Syria contend that talks with Damascus may weaken its strategic pact with Tehran.

In this context Akhtari's interview can be seen as an attempt to restrain Syria from making overtures to Israel.

The Iranian envoy said that relations between Damascus and Tehran were "excellent and strategic," although he stressed the two nations had not entered an official a pact.

"I cannot say we are at a disagreement. We can say that our views on the international, regional and bilateral levels correspond, even if not with a 100 percent match," Akhtari said.

He added that Iran is not concerned about Syria's intention to improve its ties with Europe, because Tehran is confident that its relations with Syria would not suffer as a result.

According to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to reject the Syrian calls to resume with talks is based on Israeli intelligence reports claiming that Syria would not severe its ties with Iran and Hezbollah, even if Israel gives back the Golan Heights.

Ambassador Akhtari also blamed the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of receiving support from Israel.

"The Lebanese must come up themselves with a formula that would please all sides [to end their factional crisis]? external involvement goes against the Lebanese interest, including the government's interest. Siniora's government would not grow stronger as a result of Israeli support," he said.

Siniora calls on Assad to meet
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that his government was eager to improve strained relations with Syria but warned Damascus against meddling in Lebanon's domestic politics, according to an interview published Monday.

Siniora, speaking to the daily Vremya Novostei, said that he told Russian officials during his trip to Moscow last week that Russia could help normalize the situation in Lebanon by using its contacts with Iran and Syria.

Siniora said that he had proposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad to hold talks, but insisted that the agenda for the meeting must be set in advance.

"Lebanon will not be directed by anyone against Syria, but it will never again be governed by Syria," he was quoted as saying.

Assad was expected to arrive in Moscow Monday for a two-day visit.

Siniora told Vremya Novostei that Lebanon would be grateful to Russia if it helps mediate relations between Syria and Lebanon.

"Russia could help Lebanon stop serving as an arena for somebody else's battles and become a normal, successful country," Siniora was quoted by Vremya Novostei as saying.

The Syrian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group and its allies have been holding protests and an open-ended sit-in against Siniora's U.S. backed government in an attempt to force it to resign. The group is demanding a national unity government in which it would have wider representation with effective veto powers.

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