Ahmadinejad: Mideast Peace Talks a Failure

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pronounces the Mideast Peace conference in Annapolis, Md., a failure, predicting that Israel is doomed to collapse. Iran was not invited to the multi-nation conference.

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No sooner was the Mideast peace conference finished in Annapolis than the president of Iran, which was not invited, pronounced it a failure. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted that the state of Israel is doomed to collapse.

Analysts say one reason so many Arab states attended the peace conference in Maryland was because of a shared concern about Iran's aggressive moves in the region, and especially its nuclear ambitions, which many believe are aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Jerusalem.

PETER KENYON: As delegations from more than 40 nations made their way out of Annapolis, officials close to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Olmert's bilateral talks with President Bush included a discussion of Iran and its nuclear program.

Tehran this week ruled out a suspension of uranium enrichment, despite two sets of sanctions already approved by the United Nations, which may consider a third. But conservatives in Washington and Jerusalem have been pushing for more aggressive action.

Ephraim Kam at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv says at least for the coming months efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons remain focused on diplomacy. But after five years of talks, he says the achievements are extremely limited. He says that leads him to draw two conclusions.

Mr. EPHRAIM KAM (Tel Aviv University): Just talking (unintelligible) will not stop them. If they want the bomb, they're not going to be convinced to stop their efforts. But secondly, sanctions can help if they are going to be substantial and for a long period of time. How long? Nobody can say in advance. But the sanction is a necessary element for convincing the Iranians that it is not in their favor to continue with the nuclear program.

KENYON: Left unspoken is the conviction of many in Israel that a military strike may become necessary. Kam says Israel and the U.S. are the only two countries with both the capability and the political will to carry this out. A lot will depend, he says, on the best intelligence estimate of when Tehran might acquire its first nuclear weapon.

Dr. KAM: There are some differences between the Israel and the American intelligence assessment. The Israeli intelligence assessment speaks about two to three years before Iran gets their first bomb. The American assessments speak about three to eight years, more or less. But basically you have to think in terms of three, four, five years. No more than that.

KENYON: For Saudi Arabia and others in the Sunni-led bloc of moderate Arab states, Iran's growing influence is deeply worrying. But there is also the firm belief that a military strike could plunge the region into chaos and should be avoided at all costs.

Earlier this year, Saudi analyst Khalil al-Khalil told NPR that the bellicose rhetoric from President Ahmadinejad and his supporters is a matter of growing concern.

Mr. KHALIL AL-KHALIL (Political Analyst): We thought it's over to really be back to the old ideas - communism, extremism, Shia and Sunni problems. However, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I mean, this language that is really harsh and very arrogant language - that's really causing some major concerns. But Iran is becoming an annoying country, is becoming also a major concern now. I mean, what's the solution? We have to deal with the situation.

KENYON: For now, analysts say, Arab states are content to signal their displeasure with Iran by attending the Annapolis talks, despite their worries that the Bush administration has left it too late and is too pro-Israel to broker a viable Mideast peace agreement. But it's not clear how long this Arab cooperation will last, as pressure continues to mount on Iran and conservative voices in the U.S. and Israel continue to press for the decisive action against Iran on the same timetable as the latest Mideast peace efforts before President Bush leaves office.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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