Iran Nuclear-Program Raid Fears Ease, Conciliation Seen

Iranian and Israeli officials offered what may be conciliatory signs this week, easing concerns of a possible strike on the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear installations.

Iran’s envoy to Moscow, Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi, yesterday said officials are considering a Russian proposal to avert sanctions. Israel’s top military chief, meanwhile, said Iran’s leadership is “rational” and won’t seek to build a bomb, in comments reported the same day.

Tensions over the Iranian program helped drive Brent crude prices to about $125 a barrel last month, the highest in more than 3 1/2 years. Prices fell more than 2 percent on the next trading day after Iran and the world powers broke a 15-month stalemate on the nuclear conflict during talks April 14 in Istanbul. Negotiations are set to resume May 23 in Baghdad.

We’re seeing “signals of an easing of rhetoric on war, not an easing of pressure or sanctions,” said Scott Lucas, a professor at the University of Birmingham in England who founded a website that offers analysis on international affairs.

Odds compiled by that Israel or the U.S. will strike Iran by the end of this year dropped to about 28 percent this week, from 33 percent at the end of March and as high as 62 percent in February.

‘Productive Process’

Iran is studying a proposal under which it would halt the expansion of its uranium enrichment work as part of its nuclear program and may allow stricter inspections of its atomic facilities, Sajjadi said in an interview with Bloomberg at the Iranian Embassy in Moscow yesterday.

Speaking today in an interview with the official Islamic Republic News Agency, Sajjadi said the media response to his comments have been “overdone.”

“My comments have been overdone in Bloomberg and other media as if I had issued a statement on the willingness to ratify the so-called Additional Protocol,” Sajjadi said, referring to an additional measure to safeguard agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which allows more thorough inspections of Iran’s nuclear-related sites.

Lucas said it’s not clear whether Sajjadi was “speaking with the backup from the top” in yesterday’s interview. It is yet to be seen whether this constitutes “a productive process leading to the Baghdad talks,” he said.

Nuclear Right

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland dismissed Sajjadi’s remarks, saying he is “not a central player” in international talks over Iran’s nuclear program. “What’s most important is what Iran says and does at the negotiating table,” she told reporters yesterday in Washington.

Sajjadi also said yesterday that his country will ensure it maintains its right to produce nuclear energy. Iran has long maintained that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it can enrich uranium on its soil.

While Iran says it needs the material for use as fuel in its Bushehr nuclear power plant and for a Tehran medical-research reactor, the U.S. and EU accuse it of seeking to divert its use toward building nuclear weapons. Uranium enriched at higher degrees can form the core of a bomb.

In comments that preceded those of Sajjadi yesterday, Israel’s army Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz said in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper that a decision by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to build a bomb would be “an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile.”

‘Very Rational People’

“I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people,” Gantz said.

Gantz’s comments contrast sharply with the views of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, IHS Jane’s Middle East analyst David Hartwell wrote in a note today.

“Gantz’s unusually blunt intervention appears designed to quell the international hysteria that often accompanies the debate about Iran and military action,” Hartwell wrote. “While it appears to have been generally accepted, at least for the time being, that an Israeli attack is not imminent and indeed is very unlikely at all in 2012, Gantz’s comments will not reduce the Israeli government’s desire to keep the issue -- by whatever means -- near the top of the international diplomatic agenda for the rest of the year.”

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