Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said on Tuesday that he believed Western powers would succeed in stymieing Iran's contentious nuclear program, adding that the Islamic Republic is "not irrational" despite its extremist nature.
"The Iranian regime is radical, but it's not irrational," said Ashkenazi. "If the regime sees international insistence, its not illogical to assume that it will change its direction."
"In 2003, the Iranians halted their nuclear program after they understood that the Americans were on their way to Iraq, and knew that Iran was next in line," he added.
However, Israel is readying all options to try to force Iran to halt its atomic program, Ashkenazi told a parliamentary panel on Tuesday, an Israeli official said.
He said he expected world leaders to decide by the close of 2009 which course of action to take to try to stop the Iranian program, the official said, briefing reporters.
"We are readying all the options and decision-makers will have to consider which paths to take" to stop Iran's nuclear development, Ashkenazi told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Hinting Israel was still weighing a military option to stop what Israel sees as a plan to produce nuclear weapons - which Iran denies - Ashkenazi suggested diplomatic or economic sanctions may also help.
"If the Iranians understand they will have to pay a steep price, it wouldn't be illogical or unreasonable to say they may change their current direction," the official quoted Ashkenazi as saying.
Ashkenazi said Iran plays an active role in what he called a "battle being waged between radicals and moderates for hegemony in the Middle East" and is a key supplier of weapons to two arch enemy militias of Israel's - the Hezbollah guerrillas of Lebanon and the Islamist Hamas group in the Gaza Strip.
"We cannot protect the entire country with an iron dome," he said, using the name of an interceptor system for short-range rockets that Israel has plans to deploy in two years' time.
Meanwhile, Turkish and Iranian officials met secretly this week on the sidelines of an Istanbul summit, according to a Turkish daily.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that an unsettled political situation in Iran may be complicating efforts to seal a nuclear fuel deal between Tehran and major world powers.
Obama told Reuters in an interview that the United States had made more progress toward global nuclear non-proliferation in the last several months than in the past several years.
"But it is going to take time, and part of the challenge that we face is that neither North Korea nor Iran seem to be settled enough politically to make quick decisions on these issues," he said at the White House.Obama said the United States, along with Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France, had made a "fair" offer to Iran that would allow it to have a legitimate civilian nuclear program while allaying suspicions that it was seeking to build atomic weapons. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for purely civilian purposes.
The proposal by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency calls for Iran to transfer about 75 percent of its known 1.5 metric tons of low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment by the end of this year, then to France for conversion into fuel plates for a Tehran reactor that produces radio isotopes for cancer treatment.
In talks with six world powers in Geneva on October 1, Iran agreed in principle to the draft deal.
But the deal has since stalled over details and goals and Iranian suspicions that any nuclear fuel sent abroad will not be returned to them."Although so far we have not seen the kind of positive response we want from Iran, we are as well positioned as we've ever been to align the international community behind that agenda," Obama said.
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