Photostream : France's President Nicolas Sarkozy meets Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy waits for the arrival of Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the Elysee Palace in Paris November 30, 2010. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Charles Platiau )

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) greets Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri as he arrives for a lunch at the Elysee Palace in Paris November 30, 2010. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Charles Platiau )

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) gestures as he welcomes Lebanese Prime minister Sa'ad al-Din al-Hariri prior to a meeting on november 30, 2010 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Photo cby ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

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Iran agrees to new nuclear talks with EU, UN leaders

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a press conference in Tehran on November 29, 2010 where he said that Iran's right to enrich uranium and produce (nuclear) fuel is "non-negotiable", as six major powers prepare to hold a new round of talks with Iran on its nuclear programme next month. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

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November 30, 2010 (KATAKAMI / FRANCE 24 / AFP) – Iran agreed Tuesday to a new round of talks in Geneva on December 6 and 7 with world powers on its controversial nuclear programme, an EU foreign affairs spokesman said.

Iran chief negotiator Said Jalili will meet for talks with EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton, who will lead the international delegation, the spokesman said.

“We’ve now received a response from the Iranian authorities in which they have said that Dr. Jalili has accepted Catherine Ashton’s proposal to meet in Geneva,” the spokesman said.

“Talks between Catherine Ashton and Dr. Jalili will now take place on Monday and Tuesday next week in Geneva.”

Ashton would lead the so-called “3+3” or “5+1” group of nations negotiating with Iran made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain) and Germany.

The talks will be the first between Iran and six world powers since October 2009.

Disagreement over the agenda has held up the talks. The world powers want the talks to focus on Iran’s uranium enrichment programme but Tehran wants a wider discussion that includes regional security issues.

The United States, Europe and Israel fear that Iran wants to use nuclear technology to build a bomb, but Tehran insists that its programme is a peaceful drive to produce civilian energy.  (*)

Obama, Republicans in tax face-off at White House

President Barack Obama (left) and House Speaker-elect US Representative John Boehner

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November 30, 2010 (KATAKAMI / Reuters) – President Barack Obama faces off with Republican congressional leaders over taxes on Tuesday in a test-of-wills that could foreshadow how the White House works with the opposition party in the coming two years.

Obama will host Republicans John Boehner, the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader in the Senate, as well as Democrats Nancy Pelosi, the current Speaker, and Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, at 10:30 EST at the White House.

Taxes will be at the top of their agenda.

With a broad victory in November 2 elections behind them, Republicans are eager to force Democrats to agree to extend Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy Americans as well as the middle-class constituency that concerns Obama the most.

Democrats have been in disarray about how to proceed, despite an impending deadline: the tax cuts expire at the end of this year, and Obama is keen to avoid a situation in which American families making less than $250,000 a year face a tax hike on Jan 1.

To prevent that, he may have to agree to extend cuts for Americans of all income levels for one to three years — an onerous option to many Democrats, but one that may be the most likely outcome if the two sides agree on anything at all.

Obama has said the United States cannot afford to pay the $700 billion it would cost to extend tax cuts for the rich, but he has also signaled a willingness to compromise after the “shellacking” his party received in this month’s election.

The White House said a deal was unlikely to be reached at Tuesday’s meeting, which Obama said he hoped would jump-start a better relationship between him and the newly empowered Republicans.

“My hope is that tomorrow’s meeting will mark a first step toward a new and productive working relationship,” Obama said. “Because we now have a shared responsibility to deliver for the American people on the issues that define not only these times but our future — and I hope we can do that in a cooperative and serious way.”

House Speaker-elect US Representative John Boehner speaks during a press conference November 18, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Boehner now awaits near-certain election by the full House as speaker when Republicans step into Congress on January 5 after seizing the majority from US President Barack Obama's Democrats. (Photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

GET THE JOB DONE

Boehner and McConnell, who could become Obama’s main adversaries next year, wrote in an opinion piece that their party would insist on extending tax cuts for everyone during the “lame duck” congressional session that ends this year.

Republicans will control the House and have greater strength in the Senate next year.

“If President Obama and Democratic leaders put forward a plan during the lame-duck session to cut spending and stop the tax hikes on all Americans, they can count on a positive response from Republicans,” the two men wrote in a Washington Post piece published on Tuesday.

“If the president and Democratic leaders don’t act before the end of the year, however, House and Senate Republicans will work to get the job done in the new Congress. But we hope it doesn’t come to that.”

The Republicans will put that position on the table during the meeting with Obama, which will also be attended by Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, budget director Jack Lew and other congressional leaders.

Obama invited the congressional leaders for a White House dinner earlier this month, but it was put off for scheduling reasons, which some Democrats interpreted as a Republican snub of the president’s outstretched hand.  (*)

Russia's Medvedev warns of new arms race

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010. In his annual address to members of both houses of parliament, Medvedev's focus on improving children's lives and encouraging larger families reflected serious concern over the demographic plunge that hit post-Soviet Russia. (Kremlin.Ru)

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November 30, 2010 (KATAKAMI / Reuters) – President Dmitry Medvedev warned on Tuesday that a new arms race would be sparked within the next decade unless Russia and the West forged an agreement to cooperate on building a missile defense system.

In his annual State of the Nation address, Medvedev called for closer cooperation with the United States and the European Union, holding out the prospect of closer ties two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse ended the Cold War.

But he said tension would ratchet up fast, forcing Russia to bolster its military arsenal, if Western offers of cooperation on a system to defend against missile threats failed to produce a concrete agreement.

“In the coming decade we face the following alternatives: Either we reach agreement on missile defense and create a full-fledged joint mechanism of cooperation, or … a new round of the arms race will begin,” Medvedev said.

“And we will have to take a decision about the deployment of new offensive weapons. It is clear that this scenario would be very grave.”

The remarks, in a speech of more than an hour to members of parliament and ministers, raised the stakes in sensitive discussions with the United States and NATO on missile defense.

The issue as divided Moscow and the West since the 1980s.

Medvedev agreed to NATO’s offer of missile defense cooperation at a summit with the alliance that was hailed as a fresh start, but the plans are sketchy and Russia has warned it wants an equal voice in evaluating threats and responses.

Medvedev has pursued warmer ties with the West and particularly Washington since he was steered into the presidency by his predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

He has embraced President Barack Obama’s efforts to “reset” a relationship that hit post-Cold War lows during Russia’s war with Georgia in August 2008, months after he took office.

The warning on missile defense appeared to reflect wariness in the Kremlin amid uncertainty about U.S. Senate ratification of the strategic arms limitation treaty that Medvedev signed with Obama in April, centerpiece of the push for better ties.

Russia has warned that it could withdraw from the treaty if a U.S. missile defense system develops into a threat to Russia’s security.

Main points of Medvedev's annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivers a speech during his annual state-of-the-nation address in the Kremlin in Moscow on November 30, 2010. Russia and the West's failure to agree on a new missile shield for Europe could lead to a new round of the arms race, President Dmitry Medvedev warned today in the address. (Kremlin.Ru)

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November 30, 2010 (KATAKAMI / RIA NOVOSTI) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivered his third state of the nation address to both houses of parliament in the Grand Kremlin Palace on Tuesday.

His speech to the Russian parliament was broadcast on state television and lasted for about one hour and 15 minutes.

Members of the government and State Council, heads of the Supreme, Constitutional and Higher Arbitration Courts, chairmen of the Audit Chamber and Central Election Commission, and religious leaders attended the event.

In line with the Russian Constitution, the president annually addresses the Federal Assembly, comprising the Federation Council and State Duma, about the domestic situation and the key areas of Russia’s foreign policy.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, on podium, speaks in Moscow's Kremlin, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010. In his annual address to members of both houses of parliament, Medvedev's focus on improving children's lives and encouraging larger families reflected serious concern over the emographic plunge that hit post-Soviet Russia.((AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service)

The Russian president said in his address:

– Agreement on missile defense system will either be reached within the next decade or Russia will need to deploy new strike forces

– Measures against major oil spills should be discussed globally

– Bribe takers should be fined 100 times the amount of the bribe and intermediaries in bribe taking should also be penalized under Russia’s Criminal Code

– Russia will discuss the scrapping of visas and Russia’s accession to the WTO at the Russia-EU summit in Brussels next week

– At least 50 percent of saved budget funds as well as additional income to the federal budget should be spent on modernization

– The rate of insurance premiums for Russia’s small businesses in 2011-2012 will be cut from 34 percent to 26 percent.

– Russian authorities at all levels must get rid of property unrelated to their work

– The government should prepare proposals on penalizing officials for not performing their duties in a timely manner

– Russia should reduce annual inflation to 4-5 percent in the next three years

– Use of maternity capital to pay mortgages must become the norm starting in 2011

– There should be no orphans in Russia because the main goal for orphanages is to help families to adopt children

– People convicted of child abuse will be banned from employment in the education sector

– Care of children should be a key state task

– All Russian regions should have child ombudsmen

– A law on the criminal responsibility for the sales of alcohol to minors will be adopted in the near future

– Russian families should be given a plot of land to build a house on, as well as tax breaks, after the birth of a third child

– Russia must build infrastructure that ensures favorable living conditions for disabled people

– Russia will spend 30 billion rubles (about $1 billion) on the joint research work of the country’s leading universities and major companies

– Russia will increase the share of national products on the pharmaceutical market from 20 to 50 percent in the near future

– Russia will spend 100 billion rubles on the development of children’s medicine in two years

– Russia will allocate 2 billion rubles for teacher training

– Heads of Russian regions should make annual reports on the environmental situation

– Environmental issues should be discussed with relevant non-governmental organizations before the construction of infrastructure and other facilities

– The Russian government and regional authorities should focus on the development of a military and patriotic movement in the country. (*)

MOSCOW, November 30

President Lee Myung-bak rebukes ministers for response to N. Korean provocation

 

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SEOUL, Nov. 30 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap) — President Lee Myung-bak reproached his Cabinet members Tuesday for not having the right sense of crisis at a time when South Korea’s national security is at stake, Lee’s office Cheong Wa Dae said, apparently mindful of persistent public outcry over the administration’s response to North Korea’s latest military attack.

“We should recognize that (South Korea) is confronting the world’s most belligerent group,” Lee was quoted as saying in a weekly Cabinet meeting. But there seems to be a perception that dealing with a national crisis is a task for only the defense ministry, he said, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung.

He was presiding over the first Cabinet meeting since the North’s attack on the populated island of Yeonpyeong, just south of the tense inter-Korean border in the Yellow Sea, a week ago. The attack killed two marines and two civilians, with nearly 20 others wounded.

“In a divided nation, national security is not relevant to the defense ministry alone. It is a matter for all ministries,” Lee said.

The president stressed that Cabinet members should enhance their own awareness of national security first before asking the public to do so.

Lee’s comments came amid unrelenting public criticism that the government had fumbled its initial response to the artillery barrage, leading to the resignation of Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and a wave of anti-Pyongyang protests here.

“In a national emergency situation, all Cabinet members must return to their duties regardless of whether they were at the National Assembly or elsewhere,” Lee said.

He was apparently referring to the defense minister, who was late to the emergency security meeting at Cheong Wa Dae convened shortly after the North’s attack last week due to his attendance at a parliamentary committee.

Delivering a Trade Day speech later in the day, meanwhile, Lee said South Korea is still on track to become the world’s seventh-largest exporter despite North Korea’s continued military provocations and threats, proof of the international community’s trust in the country’s economy.

“This is exactly the time for all of us to fulfill our duties in our respective places,” he said during an event marking the Trade Day.

South Korea’s exports are expected to jump more than 28 percent this year to a record high of more than US$460 billion and again by more than 11 percent next year to reach $520 billion. The major Asian economy is projected to top US$1 trillion in total trade volume next year.

Le said stable economic indicators, including stocks and the currency exchange rate, in spite of the soaring military crisis are evidence that South Korea’s economy has matured and that the international community has high confidence in it.  (*)

Lebanese-Iranian talks concluded with the signing of 9 agreements

Hariri had started his last day in Teheran with a meeting with the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the presence of the Lebanese delegation, and Mr Rahimi.

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The final statement: Support for the achievement of justice and determination to consolidate relations between the two states.

November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / PM Saad Hariri Official Website ) — The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri concluded his official visit to Tehran this afternoon with a joint press conference held with the Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. The visit resulted in the signing of nine memoranda of understanding in the social and educational sectors.

An expanded meeting took place today at the Saad Abad Palace between the Lebanese and Iranian delegations headed by PCM Hariri and First Vice President Rahimi during which the results of the visit were discussed and the memoranda of understanding were signed in the presence of Hariri and Rahimi:

The Memoranda of Understanding that were signed are as follows:

1. A memorandum of understanding on the rehabilitation of disabled people signed by the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs Salim Sayegh and the Iranian Minister of Welfare and Social Security Sadeq Mahsouli.

2. A memorandum of understanding on elderly care signed by Ministers Sayegh and Mahsouli.

3. A memorandum of Understanding in the field of child care services signed by Ministers Sayegh and Mahsouli.

4. A memorandum of understanding in the field of administrative reform signed by the Lebanese Minister of Administrative development Mohammed Fneish and the Iranian Minister of Housing and Development Ali Nikzad .

5. A memorandum of understanding on the protection of women and family affairs signed by Ministers Sayegh and Nikzad.

6. A memorandum of understanding in the fields of education and training signed by Minister Sayegh and the Iranian Minister of Education Hamid Reza Hajji-Babayee.

7. A memorandum of understanding in the field of cultural heritage signed by the Lebanese Minister of Culture Salim Warde and the Iranian Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Seyed Mohammad Hosseini.

8. A memorandum of understanding in the field of drug combat signed by Ministers Sayegh and Nikzad.

9. A memorandum of understanding on the cooperation between the Lebanese and Iranian Ministries of labor signed by the Lebanese Minister of Labor Boutros Harb and the Iranian Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Abdol Reza Shaikhol –Eslami.

Joint press conference

After the signing of the MOUs, PCM Hariri and First Vice President Rahimi held a joint press conference during which Rahimi was asked about the impact of PCM Hariri’s visit on the relations between the two countries and whether Iran will play a role in easing tension in Lebanon regarding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon?

Rahimi said: Iran is very delighted with this blessed visit which will undoubtedly strengthen and support the foundations of the existing bilateral relations between our two countries. We highly appreciate the results of this visit because it will enhance the bilateral relations and the existing cooperation on the bilateral level. Thus, this visit comes immediately after the visit of President Ahmadinejad to Lebanon, and we see that it will enhance bilateral relations on all levels.

Regarding the tribunal, we do not see that the problems have reached this situation, and we believe that the wisdom and dexterity of PCM Hariri and of senior Lebanese figures can to contain and resolve this crisis easily, and we have full confidence in the wisdom and statesmanship of PCM Hariri to resolve all topics in this context and that the Lebanese government will solve all these problems. Concerning the Tribunal, the Islamic Republic of Iran supports the truth in its true sense, and we stress in this context the necessity for the International Tribunal to be very far from the political rhetoric, and to distance itself from this rhetoric, as we have also confirmed that we are with revealing the truth and solving the problems in this context.

We would like to emphasize as well that Iran always stands by the Lebanese unity and harmony, and we believe that all Lebanese groups and parties must unite and come together to resolve the quarrels on the Lebanese arena and to focus on their true enemy. Thus, we are with the unity and independence of Lebanon, as we are with strengthening the bonds of brotherhood between the Lebanese and we officially support this orientation.

Question: Prime Minister Hariri, how do you assess the results of your visit to Iran?

PCM Hariri said: “First, I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the President, the government and the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I want also to underline the good results we reached during our talks with His Excellency President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, First Deputy President Mr. Rahimi and all the other ministers.

This visit reestablishes a good stage in the Lebanese- Iranian relations, and I was able to personally follow-up some of its aspects through the successive visits carried out by Martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to Tehran. Today, we are following the same path and we continue to work for the development of relations between the two countries and follow up the steps which began with the recent visit of President Michel Sleiman to Tehran, and then the visit of His Excellency President Dr. Ahmadinejad to Beirut.

On this occasion, I would like to emphasize the following:

First: The political results of the visit were good and useful because they reaffirmed the common fundamentals of the relationship between the two countries, and that Iran is a friendly state that wants the best for Lebanon and all its citizens. And we, on behalf of the National Unity Government, which represents all the Lebanese people, express a national Lebanese will in building friendly and strong relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on common interests, mutual respect, and constant communication between the institutions and the concerned administrations in both countries.

Second: the economic results of the talks made great steps towards a serious and responsible dialogue, and we look forward for its continuation through the establishment of the higher joint Lebanese-Iranian Committee. This step comes together with the understandings that are agreed to implement during the next phase, including the electricity and gas sector, oil exploration, exchange of technical and vocational capabilities and the exchange of expertise in the field of administrative reform. The comprehensive economic vision which we heard from the Iranian leadership can be relied on for the sake of a wide–ranging economic and social development that would include in its positive results more than one Arab and Islamic state. Lebanon can constitute, with an equivalent Arab group, a vital chain of cooperation and coordination in the major regional economic positions, especially after the understanding which was signed by Lebanon, the Turkish Republic, the Syrian Arab Republic and the Kingdom of Jordan.

Third: Lebanon thanks the Islamic Republic of Iran for its support against the Israeli war and its repercussions on the Lebanese people in all areas and particularly commends the excellent support provided by Iran to our people in the South, the Bekaa, and the southern suburbs.

Fourth: The link between the Lebanese internal stability and the regional stability was at the core of the discussions we held. This necessitates reassurance on a number of political constants that stability should be based on, including Lebanon’s right to liberate its land in the South, Lebanon’s commitment to the implementation of Resolution 1701, considering the Arab peace initiative that was launched from Beirut the principle basis for the peace process in the region, and the refusal of the Israeli measures the latest of which was the referendum law on the withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the occupied Golan. There is also Lebanon’s declaration that it will not be part of any international group to put pressure on Iran and impose siege on the Iranian people. Lebanon also asserts Iran’s right to possess nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and calls on the international community not to spare any form of negotiations with the Iranian state for this purpose.

I know that you have questions about the internal situation and the Lebanese-Lebanese relations, therefore, I would like to assure everyone that the course of things is moving in the right direction and under two big umbrellas: the Lebanese national dialogue which will not be disrupted regardless of the tensed political rhetoric, and the joint and continued Saudi- Syrian support of the Lebanese issue. I am totally confident that the brotherly and friendly states, particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran, are accompanying this path with real responsibility and all the support that it deserves. Stability in Lebanon is the responsibility of the Lebanese in the first place, and the efforts of the brothers and friends are an added value to this responsibility. Thank you Mr. First Vice President and the media representatives for their attendance, and first and foremost, I thank the Iranian people and its leadership.”

The First Vice President said: In fact, we highly appreciate your current visit to Iran, and we salute the Lebanese Republic, because it defeated the enemy, we support a united, sovereign and independent Lebanon, and we are proud of Lebanon and its people. Our region and your region are related to the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him and in fact, the fire which “alnamroudiyyoun” have sparked has gone and changed into paradise and happiness, and the fire they have set will burn them.

Today the fire of these enemies has reached us while you are among your brothers in Tehran, and assassinated this morning two Iranian scientists. Those who claim to be against terrorism are supporting terrorism and assassinating innocent people, and we will reveal their identities soon.

The Lebanese – Iranian friendship will blind the eyes of these terrible enemies and Lebanon will be more developed and proud, especially since it always stands victorious on the front lines.

I think it is my duty to offer sincere gratitude to Your Excellency and to the Lebanese leadership for the warm reception and generous hospitality received by President Ahmadinejad during his visit to Lebanon, and I must express my sincere thanking and appreciation to the ministers who accompanied you during this visit.

PCM Hariri said: Lebanon was honored to welcome President Ahmadinejad with hospitality as a token of appreciation to what Iran has offered to Lebanon and hopefully these relationships will last. As for the martyrdom of the two scientists today, we consider this to be a terrorist act and offer you our condolences and this act of terrorism must be fought.

In Lebanon, there is a national unity government with one essential equation: the army, the people and the resistance, and this is what we are committed to and our national unity is what will protect us. We will pursue this path and we thank you very much, and thank the Iranian people as well, for their love of Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L) shakes hands with Iran's first vice president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi (R) during the welcoming ceremony at Tehran's Saadabad Palace on November 27, 2010. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

The final statement

The following is the text of the final statement on the occasion of PCM Hariri’s visit to Tehran:

“According to the historical ties and friendly relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Lebanese Republic, and after the successful visit of His Excellency Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Lebanon this year, and his meetings and consultations with His Excellency President Michel Sleiman, President of the Lebanese Republic and His Excellency PCM Saad Hariri, which resulted in the conclusion of 16 documents and memoranda of understanding in various areas related to the development of relations, PCM Saad Hariri, visited the Islamic Republic of Iran at the invitation of His Excellency Mr. Rahimi, the First Vice-President of the Republic. He met with High-level officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially His Excellency Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Republic, and discussed with them bilateral relations and regional and international developments.

The two sides signed 9 new documents during this visit for cooperation in the economic, commercial, industrial, labor, social and cultural areas. After holding talks and exchanging views on issues of common concern, in an atmosphere of cordiality and understanding, the following was announced:

• In the light of the interest prevailing for the development and enhancement of relations between the two countries, both sides stressed their determination to consolidate these relations between the two states as well as between the institutions and to follow-up the implementation of agreements signed during the visit of President of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Lebanon, as well as the visit of His Excellency Saad Hariri to Tehran.

• The Islamic Republic of Iran supports national unity and stability in Lebanon and its maintenance, and stresses on the equation of coexistence as a model for the democracy of accord in the country.

• The Islamic Republic of Iran expressed its full support to the Lebanese state and the Lebanese people and the national and Islamic resistance in Lebanon against the Zionist enemy.

• The Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes on the need of the Zionist entity’s withdrawal from all the occupied territories in Lebanon, including the Shebaa Farms, Kfarshuba Hills and the village of Ghajar.

• The Islamic Republic of Iran expressed its full willingness to put its potential and capacities in various technical, engineering and economic and agricultural areas at the disposal of the friendly countries, including Lebanon.

• The Lebanese side expresses its appreciation of the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran in supporting the achievement of national unity, security and stability in Lebanon, and the two sides express their support of the common Saudi – Syrian effort in this area.

• The Lebanese side supports the right of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the peaceful use of nuclear technology, and opposes the double standards and discriminatory policy with respect to the nuclear arsenal and weapons of mass destruction of the Zionist entity, which pose a threat to regional peace and security, and calls for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.

• Both sides condemn the assassination that targeted the Iranian scientist and university professor in Tehran this morning, and consider this crime in the context of terrorism against the Iranian people.

• The Lebanese side announced its commitment to the Arab peace initiative, and the two sides confirmed their support to the struggles of the oppressed Palestinian people in order to liberate all Palestinian territories and the recuperation of their legitimate rights in an independent state and Jerusalem as its capital. The two sides highlight the right of return for the Palestinian people, and reject all Zionist attempts to impose any conditions on withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories.

• The two sides emphasize the necessity of unity and cohesion between all the Muslim States and people, and the need of all concerned parties to take the appropriate action and deal with the temptations of sectarianism, which is without a doubt in the benefit of the enemies.

• The two sides express their support for the achievement of justice and finding the truth in the assassination of martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and his comrades, and for not exploiting the tribunal politically.

• The two sides agreed to form a higher joint committee under the presidency of the First Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Lebanese Prime minister.

• The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri invited Mohammad Reza Rahimi, the First vice president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, for an official visit to Lebanon. Rahimi promised to respond to it as soon as possible. (*)

Italian PM Berlusconi : No wild parties, just elegant soirees

FILE - In this April 18, 2008 file photo, Italy's Premier-elect Silvio Berlusconi, right, and Russia's President Vladmir Putin seen after a joint news conference following talks in Berlusconi's 'Villa Certosa' in Porto Rotondo, on the island region of Sardinia, Italy. The classified diplomatic cables released by online whistle-blower WikiLeaks and reported by The New York Times said a batch of documents raised questions about Berlusconi and his relationship with Putin. One cable said Berlusconi 'appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin' in Europe. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

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November 29, 2010 ROME (KATAKAMI / AP) – Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi insisted Monday he only throws elegant, dignified soirees at his villas and not wild parties as reportedly described by a Rome-based U.S. diplomat in a cable contained in the Wikileaks trove.

Berlusconi said he didn’t care to read what such diplomats had to report, saying “I don’t look at what third-rate or fourth-rate officials say.”

Berlusconi has been accused of entertaining escorts and underage girls at his villas — allegations that have fueled a political crisis that has brought the government to a no-confidence vote in two weeks.

According to the cable, reported by The Guardian newspaper, Berlusconi’s “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest.”

On Monday, Berlusconi shrugged off the commentary with a laugh.

“I unfortunately have never in my life been to a wild party,” he said. “Maybe they’re interesting. I’ve never been.”

He said once a month he hosts dinner parties at his homes because so many people want to see him. “At these dinners, everything that occurs is proper, elegant and dignified.” Otherwise, guests wouldn’t be allowed to take pictures, he added.

Several beautiful young women have come forward over the past year detailing the dinner parties they attended at Berlusconi’s villas in Rome, Milan and Sardinia and the gifts the premier allegedly gave them.

The most recent, Nadia Macri, a 28-year-old self-described escort, has said Berlusconi paid her ?10,000 ($13,000) — delivered in an envelope — for sexual favors after she was introduced to the premier by a television executive.

Berlusconi’s lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini has said there was no basis of truth in Macri’s claims and said they had been disproved.  (*)

President Ahmadinejad : Leaks a 'satanic plot'

FILE : Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiles while attending the 17th International Festival and Fair of Press and News Agencies closing ceremony in Tehran November 1, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

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President Ahamdinejad comments on WikiLeaks affair which revealed Arab world’s call to attack Islamic Republic, calling it satanic plot. ‘Such acts of mischief have no impact on relations between nations,’ he says, blaming Israel for nuclear scientist’s death earlier.

November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / YNET) — Iran’s president says leaked American diplomatic cables recounting Arab calls for the US to launch a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities were intended to stir “mischief” and describes the affair as a satanic plot.

According to the cables released Sunday by online whistle-blower Wikileaks, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

“We don’t give any value to these documents,”Ahmadinejad told a news conference “It’s without legal value. Iran and regional states are friends. Such acts of mischief have no impact on relations between nations.”

Ahmadinejad alleged the leaks were an “organized” effort by the US to stir trouble between Iran and Arab neighbors. He said the documents were “psychological warfare.”

“Some part of the American government produced these documents,” he said. “We don’t think this information was leaked. We think it was organized to be released on a regular basis and they are pursuing political goals.”

He went on to accuse Israel and the West of being behind thekilling of a nuclear scientist on Monday.

Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the man killed was involved in a major project with the country’s nuclear agency, though he did not give specifics. Some Iranian media reported that the wounded scientist was a laser expert at Iran’s Defense Ministry and one of the country’s few top specialists in nuclear isotope separation.

‘Hand of the Zionist regime’

Iranian officials said they suspected the assassination was part of a covert campaign aimed at damaging the country’s nuclear program, which the United States and its allies says is intended to build a weapon – a claim Tehran denies. At least two other Iranian nuclear scientists have been killed in recent years, one of them in an attack similar to Monday’s.

Ahmadinejad told a press conference that “undoubtedly, the hand of the Zionist regime and Western governments is involved in the assassination.”


Scene of assassination in Tehran

But he said the attack would not hamper the nuclear program and vowed that one day Iran would take retribution. “The day in the near future when time will come for taking them into account, their file will be very thick,” he said.

Asked about the Iranian accusations, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel did not comment on such matters. Washington has strongly denied any link to previous attacks.

The slain scientist, Majid Shahriari, was a member of the nuclear engineering faculty at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. His wife, who was in the car with him, was wounded.  (*)


Reuters, The Associated Press and Dudi Cohen contributed to this report

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) installs new information security safeguards

FILE : Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands with naval commandos during his visit to the Atlit naval base near the northern city of Haifa October 26, 2010. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Dan Balilty/Pool )

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Measures aim to prevent Wikileaks-type revelations; one safeguard: alarm will go off when disc-on-key inserted in IDF computer.

November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / JERUSALEM POST) — The IDF has instituted a number of new security measures over the past year aimed at preventing major leaks of sensitive information like what was published by Wikileaks on Sunday.

The new safeguards were developed by the IDF’s Information Security Unit and include a system that will track every document, classified as top secret by the military, who it is sent to, who printed it and who burned it onto a CD.

The new system will not allow a document that is classified as top secret, for example, to be transferred to someone who does not have security clearance to view documents classified as top secret.

“This does not mean that something like Wikileaks cannot happen in Israel but it would be more difficult,” a former officer involved in information security said on Monday.

The tightening of regulations has taken place over the past year and gained importance after Anat Kam was arrested for leaking thousands of top secret and classified documents to a Haaretz reporter.

Kam, who served as an assistant to OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh’s bureau chief during her IDF service, was exposed to classified and sensitive military information and over a period of what appears to be a year, she allegedly copied the documents into a folder she had created on a computer in the office and then burned it onto a CD during her last week of service.

Other steps taken by the IDF have included thorough background checks of soldiers serving in sensitive positions and the cataloging of every IDF soldier according to their level of clearance. Sources said on Monday that the IDF has increased the number of polygraphs it conducts on soldiers and officers by 50 percent in the past year.

In addition, if a disc-on-key is attached to an IDF computer it will immediately set off an alarm at the IDF Information Security Unit alerting soldiers there of a possible infiltration. (*)

S. Korea, U.S. stage 'high-intensity' naval drills in Yellow Sea

Nov. 29, SEOUL, South Korea -- David Lausman, commanding officer of U.S. aircraft carrier USS George Washington, watches an oil supply operation during a South Korea-U.S. joint naval drill in the Yellow Sea. The massive military exercise is designed to show the two countries' firm alliance against any North Korean military provocation. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy) (Yonhap)

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SEOUL, Nov. 29 (KATAKAMI / Yonhap News ) — A flotilla of South Korean and U.S. warships fired artillery and their aircraft intercepted mock enemy planes in the Yellow Sea on Monday, the second day of what military officials labelled “high-intensity” joint naval drills aimed at deterring North Korean provocations.

The potent show of naval strength, staged against North Korea by about 10 warships and 7,300 troops and led by a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier, came days after the North shelled a South Korean island near the tense Yellow Sea border, killing two marines and as many civilians.

Condemning the North’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island as an “inhumane crime,” President Lee Myung-bak warned that any future North Korean provocations will not be tolerated again and expressed fury over the North’s “incessant menace and belligerence.”

“If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail,” a stern-faced President Lee said in a nationally televised address. After the speech, Lee visited the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command in central Seoul for an update on the drills.

Shortly after Lee ended his seven-minute speech, North Korea renewed its threats against the joint naval drills, referring to them as “yet another grave military provocation” that would lead to an “all-out war.”

“It would be a miscalculation if the U.S. and South Korean warlike forces attempt to astound and pressure” by deploying the USS George Washington, the North’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary carried by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency. The North will mount a “merciless” counterattack “if they provoke us again,” it said.

After being criticized for being too feeble in response to the North’s artillery strike, South Korea’s armed forces began to beef up military strength on the five islands near the Yellow Sea border, including Yeonpyeong. Earlier in the day, the military doubled its K-9 howitzers and deployed multiple rocket launch systems on the shell-shocked island that has been designated as a “control zone,” allowing the military to easily evacuate the remaining residents and journalists on the island.

Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have spiked since the North attacked Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, marking the first attack that targeted civilians on land since the 1950-53 Korean War. At least 18 people, mostly marines, were injured in the attack that set scores of homes and military facilities ablaze.

In a bid to drum up international support to condemn North Korea, the South’s defense ministry held a briefing on Monday for all foreign military attaches in Seoul to explain the North’s artillery attack.

“The drills have been under way in high-intensity mode for 24 hours a day, including nighttime training,” said an official at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

Monday’s drills, which are taking place far south of the tense maritime border with the North, include anti-submarine, live-fire drills, aerial bombing and maritime defensive and offensive warfare drills, the JCS official said.

“Being that these operations are in the international waters west of the Korean Peninsula certainly demonstrates the resolve that we have to mutual deterrence of the Republic of Korea,” U.S. Rear Adm. Dan Cloyd, commander of the George Washington carrier strike group, told reporters aboard on the aircraft carrier, according to a pool report.

“But it is also to improve the substantiality, interoperability and readiness of both of the Republic of Korea and U.S. forces and our collective commitment of security and stability here in the Asia-Pacific region,” Cloyd said.

South Korean Rear Adm. Lee Bum-lim said, “The purpose of these drills is aimed at sending a strong message of warning that we will not sit idle over any types of military provocations from North Korea.”

Crew members work on the deck of the USS George Washington during naval drills with South Korea on Nov. 29. (Yonhap)

Aircraft from the U.S. supercarrier the USS George Washington conducted a live-ammunition exercise to shoot mock targets in waters, while Aegis destroyers from the allies honed their capabilities to detect and destroy “hundreds of targets” over the sky, according to JCS officials.

“Destroyers also trained in a scenario in which they were to detect enemy aircraft and fire guided missiles to intercept them,” said the JCS official.

Concerned by signs that North Korea may stage another provocation during the drills, South Korea’s military has said it is closely monitoring the movements of the North’s armed forces.

Following the attack on Yeonpyeong, North Korea deployed SA-2 surface-to-air missiles near the Yellow Sea border. The North also placed other missiles on launch pads, including Samlet and Silkworm missiles, according to a military source.

One day after the North’s attack, South Korea and the U.S. announced the drills, which were planned as a warning after North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in March. Forty-six sailors were killed by the torpedo attack near the Yellow Sea border.

North Korea justified its artillery strike on Yeonpyeong as a “self-defensive measure” against a South Korean military exercise near the island, the usual logic its regime has used as an excuse for past shellings into the waters across the maritime border.

In the joint naval drills, the 97,000-ton USS George Washington, which carries more than 6,000 sailors and 75 fighter jets, is supported by a number of U.S. warships, including the 9,600-ton USS Cowpens, the USS Lassen, the USS Stethem and the USS Fitzgerald.

South Korea has deployed a 7,600-ton guided-missile Aegis destroyer, the Sejong the Great, along with two 4,500-ton destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, according to JCS officials.

Also taking part in the drills are eight F-16C Fighting Falcons, four A-10C Thunderbolt II, four F-15Ks and four KF-16s. (*)

Full text of President Lee Myung-bak's address to the nation

Nov. 29, SEOUL, South Korea -- President Lee Myung-bak encourages field commanders after being briefed by Gen. Walter Sharp (L), commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, on an ongoing Korea-U.S. joint drill in the Yellow Sea during his visit to the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command in Euijeongbu, north of Seoul, on Nov. 29. (Photo courtesy of presidential office) (Yonhap)

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November 29, 2010. (KATAKAMI /YONHAP NEWS) The following is the full text of President Lee Myung-bak’s address to the nation on Monday (Nov 29, 2010) :

Fellow Koreans,
Today, I am standing here keenly aware that I am responsible for not having been able to protect the lives and property of the people. I understand very well that you were greatly disappointed with how we responded to the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo (Yeonpyeong Island) by North Korea.

I feel enormous frustration and regret over the fact that innocent lives were lost and the homes and livelihood of the islanders were devastated.

I pray for the repose of the souls of Staff Sergeant Seo Jung-woo and Lance Corporal Moon Kwang-wook as well as the two civilian casualties-Mr. Kim Chi-baek and Mr. Bae Bok-chul. I also once again extend my heartfelt condolences to their families. I hope that those who were injured will recover quickly. I promise to urgently come up with the comprehensive measures to help the islanders of Yeonpyeongdo.

Fellow citizens,
North Korea’s provocation this time was entirely different and unprecedented in nature. Since the end of the Korean War, the North has perpetrated numerous provocations, but it has never launched a direct attack onto our territory before. Making matters worse, it indiscriminately shelled the island where some 1,400 residents are peacefully living.

A military attack against civilians is strictly prohibited even in time of war; it is a crime against humanity.

\ Only a few meters away from where shells landed, there is a school where classes were going on. I am outraged by the ruthlessness of the North Korean regime, which is even indifferent to the lives of little children.
Countries around the world are joining us in denouncing North Korea.

We have thus far tolerated provocations by the North time and again. On January 21, 1968, North Korean commandos infiltrated into Seoul with the intent of killing the President. A bomb explosion in Rangoon, Burma, set off by North Korean agents, killed many high-ranking South Korean Government officials who were accompanying the President. The North has already tried and failed twice to kill the South Korean head of state. North Korean agents blew up a civilian airplane in 1987, taking the lives of 115 passengers.

South Korea nonetheless endured these continual provocations because we entertained a slight hope that the North would change course someday and an unwavering commitment to peace on the Korean Peninsula. Over the past 20 years, therefore, South Korea has striven to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue and collaboration while at the same time providing unstinted humanitarian assistance.

North Korea, on the other hand, responded with a series of provocative acts, including the development of a nuclear program, the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan by an explosion and the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo.

At long last, we came to a realization that it no longer makes sense for us to anticipate that the North would abandon its nuclear program or its policy of brinkmanship on its own. The South Korean people now unequivocally understand that prolonged endurance and tolerance will spawn nothing but more serious provocations.

Those who have so far supported the North Korean regime might now see its true colors.

We are aware of the historic lesson that a disgraceful peace achieved through intimidation only brings about greater harm in the end. Only courage that defies retreat under any threat or provocation will bring about genuine peace. If the North commits any additional provocations against the South, we will make sure that it pays a dear price without fail.

I have confidence in the courage and potential of the citizens of Korea. We are a great people who, as of this year, have built the world’s seventh largest export powerhouse in the face of the North’s incessant menace and belligerence. In the current national crisis situation, the Korean people have demonstrated patriotism and composure.

Many young men and women went to the wake of the young soldiers who were killed in action. Citizens have volunteered to collect donations and have gone about their business with fortitude. The Republic of Korea is going to be safe and sound because of you.

There was a split in public opinion over the torpedoing of the Cheonan. Unlike that time, our people have united as one this time. Amid such unity and determination, any surreptitious attempt to create divisiveness in the nation will have no chance of success. Along with all the citizens of the Republic, I will never retreat.

The international community, too, is supporting us. Leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom as well as Russia and many other countries condemned the act of brutality by the North and are standing in full support of our position. Especially, as our ally, the United States has demonstrated a strong resolve to respond by taking action.

Fellow Koreans,
The courageous members of our Armed Forces have fought well. Some soldiers dashed to fulfill their duties without even noticing that the camouflage on their helmets had caught fire in the barrage of live shells. Those who were on leave of absence promptly returned to their units.

Citizens of Korea,
From now on, the Government will do whatever is required of it without fail.

The Government will establish Armed Forces that live up to their name. We will defend the five West Sea Islands near the northern sea border with a watertight stance against any kind of provocation. We will proactively carry out the defense reform as planned in order to make our Armed Forces even stronger.

Fellow Koreans,
Now is the time we have to demonstrate our determination with actions rather than many words.

I plead with you to have confidence in the Government and the Armed Forces and rally around our cause.

Unity is the best national security measure.

Thank you very much.

(END)

Clinton calls leaked documents attack on world

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pauses during a bilateral meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Monday, Nov. 29, 2010, at the State Department in Washington. Bristling over the unauthorized release of more than a quarter million classified State Department documents, the Obama White House on Monday ordered a government-wide review of how agencies safeguard sensitive information (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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November 29, 2010 WASHINGTON (KATAKAMI / AP) – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the leak of hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic documents is an attack not only on the United States but also the international community.

In her first public comments since the weekend release of the classified State Department cables, Clinton said Monday that online whistleblower Wikileaks acted illegally in posting the material. She said the Obama administration was “aggressively pursuing” those responsible for the leak.

She said the leaks erode trust between nations. But Clinton also said she was “confident” that U.S. partnerships would withstand the challenges posed by the latest revelations. (*)

PM Netanyahu: Let Arabs say the truth out loud

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an annual meeting with journalists in Tel Aviv November 29, 2010, marking the U.N. vote on November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. Netanyahu said on Monday leaked U.S. diplomatic cables had exposed widespread Arab fear of Iran's nuclear programme and vindicated his priorities in peacemaking. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Nir Elias )

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In meeting with journalists prime minister estimates WikiLeaks leak did not damage Israel, expresses hope that Arab leaders would tell their people what they say behind closed doors about desire for attack on Iran.

November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / YNET) — “This is an historic day for the relationship between journalism and diplomacy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday following the uncovering of hundreds of thousands of documents by the WikiLeaks website. In a meeting in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu told journalists “your job will become much harder to do, as will ours.”

The documents revealed, among other things, that many Arab leaders called on the United States to attack Iran. “If the exposure causes the region’s leaders to refrain from saying what they think in private talks, then we have a problem,” Netanyahu said.

“But if the leaders make the statements publically there will be a significant change. When leaders are willing to tell their people the truth it promotes peace.” The prime minister added that “peace based on truth has a lasting chance.”

According to Netanyahu, the leak will cause documents to be exposed to less people. “Cables leak. We in Israel have already learned this and have adapted ourselves to this reality.”

He noted that this new reality caused the government to narrow down meetings to two or four people. “Each person you add raises the chance for a leak,” he noted.

“The greatest threat to peace is the Iranian regime’s arming race, and what is most important is that

many leaders and governments in the Middle East realize this threat. There is a gap between what is said publically and was is said behind closed doors,” the prime minister stated.

“Leaders realize there is a new threat and a new understanding. I don’t remember there was such understanding in the Middle East (in the past). I hope leaders will have the courage to tell their people what they said about Iran publically.”

Netanyahu also addressed the peace process and blamed the Palestinians of the current stalemate. He noted that the process does not depend solely on Israel. “The Palestinians are the ones who did not take steps.” (*)

PM Netanyahu: WikiLeaks cables prove Israel is right on Iran

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an annual meeting with journalists in Tel Aviv November 29, 2010, marking the U.N. vote on November 29, 1947 to partition Palestine which paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. Netanyahu said on Monday leaked U.S. diplomatic cables had exposed widespread Arab fear of Iran's nuclear programme and vindicated his priorities in peacemaking. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Nir Elias )

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Leaks show how the entire Middle East fears a nuclear Iran, prime minister says.

November 29, 2010 (KATAKAMI / HAARETZ) — A raft of controversial diplomatic secrets published by the WikiLeaks group has not damaged Israel and in fact strengthened its position, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.

A collection of over 250,000 classified U.S. dispatches released by WikiLeaks caused global diplomatic turmoil and discomfort for the United States, which had warned allies ahead of publication to prepare from embarrassment.Revelations that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioned the mental health of Argentina’s president and that America asked its diplomats to snoop on the United Nations may prove awkward for Washington.

But for Israel, the outcome is positive, Netanyahu said.

“Israel has not been damaged at all by the WikiLeaks publications,” the prime minster told a group of editors in Tel Aviv. “The documents show many sources backing Israel’s assessments, particularly of Iran.”

One result of the Wikileaks cables was to expose Arab fears of growing Iranian power, and it emerged that Saudi Arabia had asked the U.S. to launch a military strike to prevent the Iranians from gaining a nuclear bomb.

Israel has for years warned of the danger from the Iranian nuclear program – which Iran claims is for peaceful purposes – to the entire region. These warnings had been vindicated, Netanyahu said.

“Our region has been hostage to a narrative that is the result of 60 years of propaganda, which paints Israel as the greatest threat,” Netanyahu said.

“In reality leaders understand that that view is bankrupt. For the first time in history there is agreement that Iran is the threat,” he said.

“If leaders start saying openly what they have long been saying behind closed doors, we can make a real breakthrough on the road to peace.”

A 2009 American government cable released Sunday by WikiLeaks quotes Defense Minister Ehud Barak as telling visiting American officials that a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was viable until the end of 2010, but after that “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage”.

Leaked documents also show America in agreement with Israel’s assessment of Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an unreliable “fundamentalist” whose policies are governed by an irrational hatred of Israel.

Netanyahu added that Israel had been prepared for the eventuality of leaks and had worked in advance to limit any damage.

“Every Israeli leader has known for years that that dispatches are likely to leak out, so we adapted ourselves to the reality of leaks, he said. “That has a bearing on who I invite to meetings. No classified Israeli material was exposed by WikiLeaks.”

But the latest exposes would still influence Israeli policy, Netanyahu said.

“The result of the release of the documents will be that in the future we will see fewer revelations and less exposure, particularly on complex issues,” he said.  (*)

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