Last updated: 9 May, 2012

EU’s Ashton briefs Israeli PM on Iran talks

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming nuclear talks between world powers and Iran, an Israeli official told AFP.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and incoming vice premier and Kadima party head Shaul Mofaz, who on Tuesday agreed to join the ruling Likud party in a unity government, also attended the meeting.

“They discussed Iran. Israel presented its positions as the next round of P5+1 talks in Baghdad approach,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The P5+1 grouping of diplomats from permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany held a first round of talks with Iran on April 14 in Istanbul and a second round is due to take place in Baghdad on May 23.

Netanyahu presented Ashton with his view of what Israel would view as progress: “Iranian agreements, with a clear timeline for implementation, on three points: the cessation of all uranium enrichment, the removal from Iran of all already-enriched material, and the dismantlement of the underground facility in Qom.”

He also expressed doubt the talks would achieve anything, telling her: “From what we see so far, the Iranian regime is using these talks to play for time, and there’s no evidence they have any intention to cease their nuclear programme.”

An EU official in Brussels, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the meeting, describing it as part of Ashton’s “regular and ongoing contacts — the same as with other leaders.”

The official said the talks included discussion of “the situation in the region, the Middle East peace process, Iran and the new coalition setup in Israel.”

The meeting was kept tightly under wraps and only flagged last week by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, which said Ashton would be briefing Netanyahu on developments in the P5+1 talks.

Last week, Haaretz reported that Israel’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror was touring European capitals to meet with top officials directly engaged in the Iran talks.

The trip was prompted by Israeli concerns the upcoming talks could ultimately end with a deal that would allow Tehran to continue enriching uranium, the paper said, indicating Amidror had earlier visited Moscow on the same mission.

Much of the West and Israel is concerned that Iran is trying to develop an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian energy programme but Tehran insists its intentions are solely peaceful.

Israel, widely considered the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, has consistently warned a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, and has refused to rule out a pre-emptive strike in a bid to halt it.

And top Israeli officials have expressed doubt that dialogue would be effective.

Last month, Netanyahu criticised the Istanbul meeting as effectively giving Tehran “a freebie” to continue enriching uranium, and Barak has also expressed little confidence in the talks, saying Israel “cannot afford to be duped.”