Iranian Minister: Israel Is the 'Real Nuclear Danger' in Mideast

Olmert to AIPAC: Iran is Israel's greatest threat; FM Livni: U.S. must not show weakness on Iran and Iraq.

Israel and U.S. delegations walked out of the United Nations' disarmament forum on Tuesday after Iran said Israel was the "real source of nuclear danger in the Middle East" and had a "dark record of crimes."

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a Conference on Disarmament that Israel's nuclear weapons posed a "uniquely grave threat to regional and international peace and security" requiring action by the international community.

He also accused Israel of being a "Zionist regime with a long and dark record of crimes and atrocities" including occupation, "state-terrorism" and crimes against humanity.

"It is surprising that while no practical step is taken to contain [the] real source of nuclear danger in the Middle East, my country is under tremendous pressure to renounce its inalienable right for peaceful use of nuclear energy", Mottaki told the conference, organized by the 65 members of the world's main forum for arms control negotiations.

In a statement, Israel's ambassador Itzhak Levanon to the UN in Geneva, said that he and his aides, and the entire U.S. delegation had "abruptly left the room as the Foreign Minister of Iran ... was in the middle of a vitriolic speech".

Levanon said Mottaki's speech was a "blatant insult" to the forum and the "only explanation for their undiplomatic behaviour is that they are under much pressure as the international community unites against Iran's pursuit of a nuclear regime."

A U.S. spokeswoman in Geneva confirmed the walk-out and called Mottaki's remarks "outrageous and divisive" at a time the forum was trying to find common ground on global arms issues.

Israel, which has accused Iran of having an atomic weapons programme, is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, but has maintained an "ambiguity" policy for years.

Six major powers negotiating United Nations sanctions against Iran for its nuclear ambitions on Monday said they were closer to a deal but needed more time to produce a Security Council resolution.

The resolution would penalise Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used in bombs or for peaceful purposes to generate electricity.

Mottaki reasserted that Iran had a right to a civilian atomic program but was ready to talk.

"We do believe that if we sit around the table, the potential is there for arriving at a comprehensive and agreeable solution," he told a news conference.

Russia urges Iran to meet UN demands to freeze uranium enrichmentRussia has urged Iran to fulfill the United Nations demand to freeze its uranium enrichment program and to cooperate with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, officials said Tuesday.

Russian officials made the call during the two-day of talks in Moscow with Ali Hosseinitash, a deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement which appeared to signal Moscow's growing irritation with its close partner.

During the talks with Hosseinitash, Moscow emphasized the need for Tehran to fulfill the demands of corresponding resolutions of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency Board. Russian officials also urged Tehran to take the necessary constructive steps that would allow an immediate start to the negotiation process, the statement said.

Iran insists its enrichment program is peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, but the United States and its allies believes it serves as a cover for seeking to build atomic weapons. In December, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions against Iran for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

Senior representatives of the five permanent Security Council members - Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France, along with Germany - have been discussing possible new sanctions against Iran to force it to suspend enrichment efforts.

Peres: Iranian nuclear issue must be dealt with peacefullyVice Premier Shimon Peres said Tuesday that a peaceful solution must be found to the Iranian nuclear problem, despite its president's vow to wipe Israel off the map.

"I wouldn't like to darken the future with belligerent declarations," Peres said at a news conference when asked about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike.

"I do hope that the problem can be solved economically, politically and psychologically."

Peres also reiterated Israel's long-held policy of nuclear ambiguity, a policy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared to veer from in December with remarks that implied possession of atomic weapons.

The vice premier said the only thing his nation has ever declared is that it will not be the first in the region to use nuclear weapons despite the many threats against it.

"We've learned that suspicion is enough. We don't need anything else," he added.

Peres is in Tokyo for a four-nation meeting Wednesday about Middle East peace that includes officials from the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and host Japan, as well as a two-day confidence-building conference that starts Wednesday.

Olmert on Monday named Iran as the greatest threat to Israel and said it was building sophisticated weaponry systems and trying to create nuclear capacity.

"When we hear such threats... we have no choice but to take it seriously and we must address ourselves to these threats," Olmert told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the Washington-based lobbying group's annual conference.

The prime minister also said that diplomacy was the preferred solution to forcing the Iranians to reconsider their nuclear position.

But, he said, only U.S. President George W. Bush and the U.S. can effectively confront Iran's attempt to boost its nuclear capacity.

"All of you who are concerned about the security and the future of the state of Israel understand the importance of strong American leadership addressing the Iranian threat and I'm sure that you will not hamper or restrain that strong leadership unnecessarily," Olmert said.

Livni: U.S. must not show weakness on Iraq, IranForeign Minister Tzipi Livni told AIPAC on Monday that Iran was at the forefront of extremist threats to Israel, the greater Middle East and the world in general because of its nuclear ambitions.

"To address extremism is to address Iran," she said, urging tougher UN sanctions over its nuclear program. "It is a regime which denies the Holocaust while threatening the world with a new one."

"To those states who know the threat but still hesitate because of narrow economic or political interests, let me say this: History will remember."

Also addressing AIPAC, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney warned Monday that an early withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would lead to disaster and chaos in the Middle East, with either Al-Qaida or Iran emerging dominant from a bloody sectarian battle.