thai police have confirmed that the botched bomb attack by Iranian suspects was targeted at Israeli diplomats. Meanwhile, Iran's top nuclear negotiator has offered to return to stalled multilateral talks, with Western officials cautiously responding. At the same time, the US has played down Iran's claimed nuclear acheivements, with officials saying that Iran has not decided on building an atomic bomb but is unlikely to drop its nuclear programme, nor is Iran likely to start a war.
Thailand confirms Iranian bomb attack targeted Israeli diplomats
Thailand’s top policeman has given the first confirmation that the three Iranians detained after accidentally setting off explosives in Bangkok were plotting to attack Israeli diplomats. National police chief General Prewpan Dhamapong said authorities in Thailand now “know for certain that (the target) was Israeli diplomats.”
“This issue was about individuals and the targets were specific,” he added. “This was something personal.”
General Prewpan also said that two homemade “sticky” bombs found at the blast site on Tuesday matched the devices planted on Israeli diplomatic cars in India and Georgia a day earlier.
Israel has accused Iran of being behind the botched attack in Thailand, a bombing in India and an attempted bombing in Georgia.
Israel has alleged that Iran was waging a covert campaign of terror and has threatened military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran has blamed Israel for the recent murders of Iranian nuclear scientists and has denied responsibility for all the bomb plots.
Iran has stridently denied the claims. “Efforts by Israel to harm the friendly relations between Thailand and Iran will bear no results,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by the Iran’s state-run Mehr news agency. Israel’s “coordinated baseless accusations of our country having a hand in blasts in India and Georgia and Bangkok shows the plot and the setting up of a suspicious scenario.”
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with Israel Radio during a trip to Japan, “It's clearer to more and more of the world that Iran, which is a veteran sponsor of terror, is trying to raise the bar even more, trying to harm diplomats around the world.” Israel's UN ambassador on Thursday urged the Security Council to swiftly condemn the attacks.
Thailand’s acknowledgement that terror plots within its territory were being planned contrasted to its refutations last month. Thai authorities insisted that Thailand was merely a staging ground for attacks but not the target after police arrested a Lebanese-Swedish man with supposed links to Hezbollah. The man led police to a warehouse where bomb-making materials were being stored.
Report: Thailand: Iranians' Targets Were Israeli Diplomats [NPR, 16 Feb 2012]
Report: Iranian Bombing Suspects Targeted Israeli Diplomats, Thailand Police Say[Bloomberg, 16 Feb 2012]
West warily considers Iran’s offer for talks
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, sent a letter to the European Union's foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, dated 14 February, requesting “to resume our talks…for sustainable cooperation” at the “earliest” possible time, according to a copy of the letter.
This drew a cautiously receptive response from US and European officials on Thursday, opening a potential avenue for reducing mounting tensions between Iran and the West.
Western officials who viewed the letter called it ambiguous and failed to allay worries in the US and EU that Iran would try to make use of new talks to buy time to further its nuclear ambitions and ward off new sanctions. But these officials asserted that their governments were closely monitoring Mr Jalili’s position and believed they needed to further test Iran's willingness to re-engage in direct talks after a hiatus of more than a year.
Report: West Considers Iran's Offer to Talk [Wall Street Journal, 16 Feb 2012]
US officials: Iran’s purported nuclear achievements ‘hyped’, unlikely to drop nuclear programme but unlikely to start war
The US has played down Iran’s claim of a significant nuclear breakthrough as an exaggeration to boost nationalism as Western sanctions against the Islamic Republic continue to mount.
Iran’s official Press TV said yesterday that 3,000 “new- generation” Iranian-made centrifuges were installed at its main uranium enrichment site at Natanz, while domestically made fuel plates were loaded at a medical research reactor in Tehran.
US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington yesterday, ““Our view on this is that it’s not terribly new and it’s not terribly impressive”, adding that the announcement was “hyped” for a domestic audience
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that US intelligence showed that Iran is enriching uranium in its disputed nuclear programme but has not made a decision on whether to proceed with developing an atomic bomb.
Mr Panetta asserted to the House Appropriations defence subcommittee, “This isn’t just about containment. We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon… We will not allow Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz. And in addition to that, obviously, we have expressed serious concerns to Iran about the spread of violence and the fact that they continue to support terrorism and they continue to try to undermine other countries.”
He also echoed President Barack Obama’s statement that “we do keep all options on the table.”
Mr Panetta said US intelligence shows that Iran is proceeding with its uranium enrichment program. “But the intelligence does not show that they’ve made the decision to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon. That is the red line that would concern us and that would ensure that the international community, hopefully together, would respond,” he said.
Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess, director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, on Thursday cited US intelligence agencies as predicting that Iran will respond if attacked but is unlikely to start a conflict, and they believe that Israel has not made a decision to strike Iranian nuclear facilities.
Lt-Gen Burgess also said that despite the tightening of sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic’s leaders are unlikely to abandon their suspected nuclear weapons program.
Report: Iran’s Nuclear Breakthrough Called ‘Hype’ by U.S. as Crude Oil Price Gains[Bloomberg, 17 Feb 2012]
Report: Panetta says Iran enriching uranium but no decision yet on proceeding with a nuclear weapon [Washington Post, 17 Feb 2012]
Report: Iran unlikely to start conflict: US official [Reuters, 16 Feb 2012]