Sworn enemies across the disarmament table

Iran and Israel 'questioned each other' at nuclear conference

Bitter enemies Iran and Israel, whose normal discourse is that of threat and counter-threat, engaged in a rare face-to-face exchange of views at a nuclear disarmament conference in Cairo, Israeli media reported yesterday.

Tehran vigorously denied the reported contact, but Israeli officials confirmed that representatives from both countries had questioned one another at a conference last month, organised by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.

Iran's delegate used the opportunity to ask the Israeli representative whether the Jewish state had nuclear weapons. This enquiry met with a smile but no answer, according to a report in yesterday's Haaretz. Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear arms, though always refuses to confirm or deny it.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli nuclear agency said senior official Meirav Zafary-Odiz had taken questions after her speech from a variety of participants, including Ali Ashghar Soltaniya, Iran's ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog. He in turn took questions from her after his own speech. That is rare as the Iranians normally avoid any interaction, even indirect, with Israeli officials at international conferences.

However, the Israeli spokeswommand was clear to stress: "there was no meeting, no informal discussion and no handshake".

Iran, whose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad considers Israel an illegitimate state established on territory stolen from Palestinians, was quick to deny any contact whatsoever. "The reports in this regard are sheer lies and there has been no meeting in Cairo," a spokesman for the Iranian atomic organisation was quoted as saying by state television.

Delegates from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India, the US, France and Britain attended the conference. According to Haaretz, Ms Zafary-Odiz told the meeting that Israel is in principle willing to discuss regional disarmament, but first wants to see a strengthening of regional security and to sign more peace treaties with Arab states. Mr Soltaniya reportedly said during his remarks that Iran has no enmity towards Jews, only towards Zionists.

Galia Golan, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, said that if exchanges had actually taken place between the delegates, it was "extremely important".

"It's very important to begin some kind of dialogue to start undoing the dehumanisation," she said.

Such encounters might serve to lower tensions between Israel and Iran, which have been raised by bellicose rhetoric. President Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe Israel out and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said "all options are on the table" including military strikes if Tehran develops nuclear weapons.

News of the direct dialogue at the nuclear conference came as Tehran decides whether to sign up to a deal drafted by the International Atomic Energy Agency after talks in Vienna this week which would see Iran ship its uranium to France and Russia to be turned into fuel rods for a nuclear medicine facility.

Iran has been given until today to reach a verdict on the proposal, but comments from a senior Iranian lawmaker yesterday cast doubt on a positive response from Tehran. "They [the West] tell us: you give us your 3.5 per cent enriched uranium and we will give you the fuel for the reactor. It is not acceptable to us," said parliament's deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - IT Managed Services - £65,000

£35000 per annum + OTE £65,000 +Pension: h2 Recruit Ltd: A fantastic opportuni...

Recruitment Genius: Industrial Gas Burner Engineer

£26000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Industrial Gas Burner Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Inside Sales Manager - Accountancy Software - £80,000 OTE

£50000 - £60000 per annum + £80,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Sou...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital