Thursday, October 22, 2009

Heated debate between Israeli and Iranian delegates at conference on Nuclear disarmament

(Washington Post).Representatives of Iran and Israel attended an international conference on nuclear disarmament last month in Egypt, but Iranian officials Thursday denied news reports that the two archenemies engaged in direct dialogue at the meeting amid conflicting accounts of heated exchanges.

According to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which convened the Sept. 29-30 conference in Cairo, participants included two Iranians and three Israelis, notably Iran's chief ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency and a senior official of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission.

At least three media outlets reported that the two sides exchanged heated comments during an open session of the conference, which was sponsored by the governments of Australia and Japan. Officials in Iran and Israel separately denied that representatives of their countries either met face-to-face or spoke to each other directly.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that at one point during the conference, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, directly asked Meirav Zafary-Odiz, chief of policy and arms control at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, whether Israel possesses nuclear weapons. The paper said Zafary-Odiz smiled but did not respond. It also said she told the conference that Israel would be prepared to discuss a nuclear freeze in the Middle East only at some future date when the region was at peace.

Australia's The Age newspaper said Iranian and Israeli delegates had a "very robust exchange" during the conference. Agence France-Presse said another Israeli participant, Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former internal security and foreign minister who sits on the commission's advisory board, traded heated remarks with Soltanieh, with the Iranian denying the Israeli's charge that Iran intends to produce a nuclear weapon.

In Tehran, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a press adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, disputed the media accounts and accused Israel of trying to obstruct nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States.

In Israel, a spokeswoman for the Atomic Energy Commission, Yael Doron, said each country stated its position on nuclear disarmament separately at the conference. "The two sides did not meet or speak to one another directly," she said, according to the Associated Press.