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Olmert hardens stance on nuclear Iran

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that “all options” were open to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, suggesting that Israel was prepared to use military force if it deemed it necessary against Tehran’s nuclear program.

At a Jerusalem hotel, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began preliminary talks on the core issues of a final peace agreement, in the wake of a visit by President Bush last week to prod negotiations.

Olmert’s comment on Iran, stronger than his previous statements on the subject, followed his discussions with Bush on Tehran’s nuclear program and came after a U.S. intelligence estimate last month stated “with high confidence” that Iran had halted nuclear weapons development in 2003. Israeli officials disputed that assessment, and Bush said here last week that Iran remained “a threat to world peace.”

“Regarding the threat of nuclear Iran, all options are on the table,” an official spokesman quoted Olmert as telling parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, whose meetings are closed. “Israel cannot reconcile itself with a nuclear Iran, and there is no option which we are ruling out in advance.”

Israeli warplanes bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq shortly before it was to become operational in 1981 and attacked a site in Syria in September reportedly thought by Israeli intelligence to be linked to a nascent nuclear program.

Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, but Israeli intelligence assessments indicate Iran could develop a nuclear bomb by 2010. Israeli officials have urged vigorous diplomatic activity and sanctions to pressure Tehran to halt its nuclear program, but have stopped short of threatening military action.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the Israeli chief negotiator, met with her Palestinian counterpart, Ahmad Qureia, to start talks on the fundamental issues of a final peace agreement: borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements.

“We started today talking about all the core issues,” Qureia said after the two-hour meeting. “We talked about these issues in general. The talks were positive, but the path ahead is difficult.”


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