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Newsletter : 13fx1220.txt

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Iran Foreign Minister: We Can Resume 20% Enrichment Within a Day

By The Times of Israel

Iran's foreign minister said that his country could immediately resume enriching uranium to 20 % should Western powers fail to uphold their end of an interim nuclear deal inked last month in Geneva. "The structure of our nuclear program has been maintained and the 20% enrichment can be resumed in less than 24 hours," Mohammad Javad Zarif told a gathering of Iranian students in Tehran. He added that "the structure of the sanctions and the antagonistic atmosphere created by the West against Iran is falling apart," according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

As part of the November 24 interim agreement, which has yet to come into force, Iran agreed to dilute or convert to uranium oxide all uranium enriched beyond 5%. The blending down of Iran's stock of 20% enriched uranium is expected to lengthen the time required for nuclear "breakout" capability.

While the talks are currently scheduled for December 20, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Seyed Abbas Araqchi told Fars that the meetings will continue through Saturday and Sunday if proven necessary. "It's in the interests of the Iranians to go quickly because there won't be an easing of sanctions until the agreement is implemented," a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.

The Iranian officials last met with representatives from the six world powers on December 12 in Vienna. However, following a decision by the US government to blacklist 19 companies for evading Iranian sanctions, the Iranian delegation cut the meetings short and flew back to Iran a day before negotiations were set to end, stating that the US's move violated the interim agreement.

"Iran has ended the talks because of the addition of more individuals and companies to the sanctions list. It was against the path of agreements," an unnamed Iranian official told the IRNA news agency following the move.

Days later, top Iranian officials reiterated their commitment to the diplomatic process. "The process has been derailed, the process has not died," Zarif told CBS News on Sunday. "We are trying to put it back and to correct the path, and continue the negotiations because I believe there is a lot at stake for everybody."

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also quoted Tuesday saying that Iran was ready for a final agreement. Under the interim agreement signed in Geneva on November 24, the world powers must ease sanctions against Iran while Iran is required to scale back its nuclear program over the course of six months. While the deal was heavily criticized by Israeli officials, the US and the additional world powers remain optimistic the interim deal will pave the way for a permanent agreement with the Iranian regime.

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'Israel May Attack Iran's Heavy-Water Reactor'

By Israel Hayom

S. Fred Singer, a physicist who was formerly chief scientist of the U.S. Department of Transportation, wrote in The Washington Times on December 15 that the Geneva Interim Accord on Iran's nuclear programs may trigger Israeli military action.

"As these talks continue and drag on, look for a startling development: Israel may attack Iran's heavy-water reactor -- now being completed near Arak -- arguing that Iran does not need to manufacture weapons-grade plutonium if its nuclear programs are truly peaceful as claimed. Not being involved in the interim agreement, Israel would be free to act," Singer writes.

Singer says that the scenario leading to military action is predictable. Israel would find out that Iran is cheating, but this would be disputed by the United States. Already, Singer writes, the United States and Iran seem to differ on the issue of the Arak reactor, whose main purpose seems to be the manufacture of plutonium for bombs. The United States believes that Iran has committed to no further advances of its activities at Arak while the Iranian Foreign Minister says otherwise.

"The Arak facility," writes Singer, "is a relatively easy target: It is above ground, about halfway between Tehran and Isfahan, but closer to Iran's western border with Iraq. According to published photographs, it includes a complex of buildings, in addition to the reactor itself."

"One may imagine that Israel is carefully weighing the security and political benefits and costs," he writes, "in addition to the purely military planning of such an attack. It may delay somewhat Iran's drive for nuclear weapons. It might even cause Iran to abandon such efforts -- think Moammar Gadhafi -- unlikely, unless there is a major political upheaval there. It would certainly demonstrate Israel's willingness and capability to enforce previously set 'red lines,' and thereby generate respect from others in the region and the world."

Singer says that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states would quietly support such an attack, along with the U.S. public and Congress, Canada and Australia. It would be disapproved of by the U.N. and rest of the world. "The ball seems to be in Israel's court," writes Singer. "That nation faces a fateful decision with a complex cost-benefit calculation. Yet in the final analysis, domestic political considerations there may determine the outcome."


`Palestinian Group Carried Out Lockerbie Bombing'

By The Times of Israel

Twenty-five years after Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, with the loss of all 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground, a former senior member of the Israeli security establishment said he was certain the bombing was carried out by Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

The Israeli source, who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, said Israel was "listening in" during the months prior to the Dec. 21, 1988 bombing on preparations for what "we thought was a plan to target an Israeli plane" and that it was "clear that Jibril prepared the operation."

The comments came ahead of Saturday's 25th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack ever carried out on British territory, and the worst terror attack on American civilians with the exception of 9/11. The anniversary is prompting another slew of conspiracy theories as to who was responsible.

Among the claims that have come to the fore in various newspaper reports, TV documentaries and new books in the last few days are allegations that the bomber was Palestinian terrorist Mohammed Abu Talb, who carried out a series of bombings in Copenhagen and Amsterdam in 1985; that the CIA subverted the investigation; and that a fair-minded examination of the evidence demonstrates that the bomb, rather than beginning its fateful journey in Malta, was smuggled onto Flight 103 via a baggage container at Heathrow Airport.

The Israeli source did not dispute that Col. Muammar Gaddafi's Libya, which in 2003 accepted responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to victims' families, had commissioned the attack. And he said that while an Iranian role made sense, Israel had found no proof of Iranian involvement. (Iran, a prime orchestrator of international terrorism, had pledged to avenge the July 1988 accidental downing by the USS Vincennes of Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf, with the loss of all 290 people on board.)

The source, who was a senior figure in the Israeli military intelligence hierarchy at the time of the Lockerbie blast, said there was a "huge alert" in the Israeli security establishment in the months before the bombing, because of indications that the PFLP-GC was about to strike. "We told the British and the Americans what we knew, which was that there was an intention to hit an Israeli plane," he said. "We didn't warn about a British or an American plane because we didn't know that," he said.

The only man ever convicted for the bombing was a Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was found to have placed a suitcase containing the bomb on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt, from where it was transferred to a flight to London's Heathrow, before detonating on Flight 103 a little more than half an hour after the Pan Am plane took off for New York. Megrahi, who was jailed in 2001 after a trial in which his fellow alleged Libyan conspirator, Lamin Fhima, was acquitted, went to his death in 2012 insisting on his innocence.

The former Israeli official said he was "not at all sure" that Megrahi had anything to do with bombing. "Megrahi was the man who was persuaded to say he did it, for the Libyan national interest. Beyond that, I can't say."

Jibril's pro-Syrian PFLP-GC had carried it out. Jibril, who is today believed to be in Syria, was born south of Tel Aviv but his family settled in Syria after the establishment of Israel. Once a leading Syrian army bomb-maker, his PFLP-GC had a history of hijacking and blowing up airplanes, and he had publicly warned two years before the Lockerbie blast that "there will be no safety for any traveler on an Israeli or US airliner."

As early as 1970, Jibril had smuggled barometric pressure devices onto airliners, claiming responsibility for blowing up a Swissair flight to Tel Aviv in this fashion in February, 1970, with the deaths of all 47 people on board.

Two months before the Lockerbie bombing, Jibril's right-hand man Hafez Dalkamouni was arrested by German police along with other members of a PFLP-GC cell found to be in possession of several barometric pressure explosive devices, built into Toshiba radio-recorders, similar though not identical to the device that investigators subsequently established was used in the Lockerbie bombing.

Unexpectedly, however, the British-American investigation subsequently shifted focus to Libya, largely on the strength of a tiny fragment of a timing device ostensibly discovered among the bombing debris, a device which Megrahi's trial was told had been incontrovertibly traced to Libya.

The allegation that this timing device was suspect, and that the investigation was skewed because of realpolitik considerations — such as a desire to avoid implicating Syria at a time when the US was building a coalition against Saddam Hussein, or to placate Iran and thus secure the release of Western hostages — is at the heart of many of the conspiracy theories surrounding the bombing.

Having reported on the Lockerbie bombing from the UK at the time, and seen material ostensibly linking the blast to the PFLP-GC, this reporter (David Horovitz) has frequently questioned high-placed Israeli politicians and members of the security establishment about the affair. Then trade minister Ariel Sharon declared three months after the blast that Israel — one of whose citizens, Daniel Browner, was killed in the bombing — believed Jibril to have carried out the attack.

The source who spoke to The Times of Israel asserted that the trial at which Megrahi was convicted, held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, "did not rule out" that Jibril organized the bombing on Gaddafi's behalf.

Although other reports have suggested that both Jibril and Dalkamouni visited Tehran after the Iran Air plane was downed and ahead of the Lockerbie bombing to discuss carrying out the attack, and that Jibril was paid $11 million by Iran days after the bombing, the Israeli source said Israel had "no proof" of an Iranian role. Jibril has always denied any part in the Lockerbie bombing. This week, too, a PFLP-GC spokesman reiterated the denial.

Libya's Justice Minister Salah Margani said this week that his government would allow US and British investigators to question Abdullah al-Senoussi, Gaddafi's intelligence chief — who is facing trial in Libya for crimes under the Gaddafi regime — over allegations of complicity in the Lockerbie bombing.


Christian Parliamentarian Calls for Knesset Christmas Tree

By The Times of Israel

A Christian member of Knesset called on Thursday for the Israeli parliament to host a Christmas tree that would honor Israel's "multiculturalism" and its Christian minority. A Knesset spokesperson said the request was under consideration.

MK Hana Sweid (Hadash), who hails from the Galilee town of Eilaboun, sent a letter Thursday to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) urging him to order the placing of the Christmas tree "at the entrance [to the Knesset], or another visible place, as you see fit." The placement of the tree would be "a gesture toward Christian members of Knesset and citizens of Israel, and a symbol of [Israel's] ties to the Christian world generally."

Many Jewish citizens of Israel, Sweid noted, "are used to seeing Christmas trees during the holiday period in their countries of birth." The call was not a political statement, Sweid told The Times of Israel. "One might argue that in Israel everything is political, that this has political ramifications, but I'm not aiming for that. We're not talking about a national symbol. The Christmas tree is a religious and cultural symbol from China to Alaska," he said.

It was also common in many countries to see expressions of minorities' cultures in the national parliaments, he added. "I know that the United States Congress doesn't work on Yom Kippur as an expression of respect for the culture" of the country's Jewish minority, he said. "I say the Knesset also has to express multiculturalism in the sense that in the Knesset there are MKs from different cultures, not just Jews but Christians, Muslims, Druze and others. The Knesset represents all the subgroups, cultures and strata of [Israeli society]," he said.

It is also an opportunity to see if Israeli lawmakers stand by some of their rhetoric, he added. "I hear a lot of right-wing voices talking about the importance of the Christian minority, and the suffering of Christians in the Middle East. I want to test this sentiment." Sweid also plans to propose a bill closing the Knesset plenum and committees during the Christian holidays of Christmas, New Year and Easter.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Knesset speaker said the letter had been received Thursday and the matter was "being looked into."


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