May 18, 2012 / 10:35 AM / 8 years ago

Iran in "chess game" to guard nuclear gains - Israel

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Iran is likely to use talks planned with world powers next week to buy more time for advancing its disputed nuclear programme and it is “very good at playing this kind of chess game”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday.

Israel feels menaced by the chance of arch-foe Iran going nuclear, convinced Tehran is seeking ways to produce atom bombs rather than peaceful atomic energy as it says, and has mooted pre-emptive military action against Tehran if diplomacy fails.

“Obviously it would be better to see this issue resolved diplomatically,” Netanyahu said outside Prague Castle while on an official visit to the Czech capital, in his first direct comment on the pending Baghdad meeting.

“But I have to say that I have seen no evidence whatsoever that Iran is serious about ending its nuclear programme,” the right-wing Israeli premier told reporters.

Netanyahu said Iran may be using talks as a game in which it agrees to something but does not implement it, or agrees to implement something that would not derail its programme.

“It looks as though they see the talks as another opportunity to delay and deceive and buy time, pretty much as North Korea did for many years,” he said. “Iran is very good in playing this kind of chess game, and you know sometimes you have to sacrifice a pawn to save the king.”

The United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany have been using a mix of sanctions and negotiations to try to persuade Iran to curb enrichment, which can produce fuel for reactors and medical isotopes or, at high levels of purification, fissile material for nuclear warheads.

Netanyahu repeated calls for Iran to freeze all nuclear enrichment activity, remove all enriched material and dismantle an underground plant near the Shi’ite holy city of Qom.

While Israel wants a total enrichment shutdown by Iran, many diplomats and analysts believe a peaceful solution is feasible only on the basis of compromise, given Tehran’s equation of nuclear energy with national sovereignty and progress.

The powers’ immediate priority is to get Iran to halt the higher-grade enrichment it started in 2010 and allow unrestricted U.N. nuclear inspections to ensure no military diversions of the programme, in exchange for a halt to moves to toughen sanctions or suspension of some existing measures.

Israel, along with the United States, has said it considers military force a last resort to stop Iran “weaponising” the enrichment process.

Western diplomats said this week that Iran was installing more centrifuges in an underground plant but did not yet appear to be using them to expand higher-grade enrichment that could take it closer to producing bomb material.

Reporting and writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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