Thursday, March 8, 2012
Japan reiterated on Thursday that it will only sign a peace treaty with Russia if it returns the disputed Kuril Islands, the BBC Russian Service reported.
The four islands, which lie off Japan's northern-most island of Hokkaido, were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II. The dispute over the islands - which Russia calls the southern Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories - has stopped the two countries from signing a treaty to end the war.
Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Japanese Parime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Tokyo wanted all four islands returned and would not accept a Russian offer to return part of the islands but not all.
Last week, Japan dropped the provocative wording, "illegal occupation," for the long-running dispute, and agreed to refer to the islands as being "occupied without legal grounds" by Russia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sparked a diplomatic row with Tokyo in November 2010 by making the first ever visit by a Russian leader to the Kuril islands.
He later said Russia would increase its military presence there. Japan’s then prime minister Naoto Kan called Medvedev’s visit an "inexcusable rudeness."
An Israeli official claims satellite images that raised suspicions Iran is trying to conceal a key nuclear test back Israel's concerns that Tehran is developing an atomic bomb.
The official said the pictures "reinforce what Israel has been saying all along ... the Iranian nuclear program is not benign." He spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal government response.
The base in Parchin where Iran conducted nuclear tests.
On Wednesday, pictures provided by unspecified member countries to the International Atomic Energy Agency - the UN nuclear agency - appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at Iran's Parchin military site. Diplomats said the images suggested the trucks could be carting away radioactive material created in nuclear testing.
Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purpose - a claim Israel and the West reject.
Earlier Thursday, Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told CNN that Iran is not telling us everything about its nuclear program.
"We have the indication or information that Iran has engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices," Yukiya Amano told CNN.
Iran faces growing international pressure over its nuclear program, which it insists is peaceful. Israel has hinted that it might resort to a pre-emptive military strike to stop Tehran's program.
The diplomatic account came only a day after the ISNA news agency reported that Iran indicated that it would give the UN nuclear watchdog access to the Parchin complex.
An International Atomic Energy Agency report last year said that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin, southeast of Tehran, to conduct explosives tests that are "strong indicators" of efforts to develop an atom bomb.
A Syrian deputy oil minister says he is resigning to join the revolt against the government.
Abdo Hussameddin, 58, announced his defection in a video posted on YouTube.
He is the highest level political figure to abandon the government of President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising erupted a year ago.
Earlier, after a visit to the city of Homs, the UN humanitarian chief said some areas had been "devastated" in the offensive by Syrian government troops.
Valerie Amos said the bombed-out Baba Amr district felt like it had been closed down entirely. The government retook the district last week after fierce shelling.
Activists say troops committed massacres since they went in. Damascus blames rebels for many deaths.'Driven by barbarism'
Abdo Hussameddin - who is one of two deputy oil ministers - posted his video on YouTube late on Wednesday.
Wearing a smart jacket, collar and tie, and sitting in a high-backed armchair, he read out a four-minute ringing denunciation of the regime he said he had served in one capacity or another for the past 33 years.
This is potentially very significant. One of the key elements we have seen in Syria is that the regime itself - the inner core - has not cracked.
If you look at what happened in Tunisia, in Egypt and in Libya, very quickly the regime broke apart and the leadership lost the support of key players.
That hasn't happened yet in Syria - this may be the first sign of it, or it may be just one isolated example.
As the deputy minister intimated in his video, anybody trying to defect from that inner core faces enormous pressure. They fear their homes and families will be destroyed.
"I, Abdo Hussameddin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party.
"I am joining the revolution of the people who reject injustice and the brutal campaign of the regime."
Mr Hussameddin - deputy oil minister since August 2009 - added: "I tell the regime, which claims to own the country, you have nothing but the footprint of the tank driven by your barbarism to kill innocent people."
He said he was stepping aside although he knew that his house would be burnt and his family persecuted by the regime.
An activist who shot the video and posted it on YouTube told the AFP news agency in Beirut that the opposition had helped to arrange the resignation.
The Syrian government has not publicly commented on Mr Hussameddin's announcement.
Observers say public defections have been rare among civilian officials of the Syrian state, which is controlled by President Assad's minority Alawite sect.
However, there have been high-profile defections from the military, including Gen Mustapha al-Sheikh who fled to Turkey earlier this year. Also thousands of chiefly Sunni soldiers and conscripts are reported to have deserted since the start of the uprising.
A spokeswoman from the opposition National Transitional Council of Syria said she believed many more cabinet members and their deputies were prepared to defect.
The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the deputy minister's resignation would appear to signal growing strains within the regime, as the violence intensifies, and the economy comes under increasing stress because of sanctions.
Violence continued across Syria on Wednesday. Opposition groups said 39 people were killed - 26 in Homs, six in Idlib, three in Deraa and two each in suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo.
The UN says more than 7,500 people have died as a result of the violence in Syria over the past 12 months.
International media organisations are heavily restricted in Syria, making it impossible to verify the claims of either side.'No to force'
In further diplomatic efforts to halt the violence, special envoy Kofi Annan is due to meet representatives of both sides in Damascus at the weekend.
Speaking after talks in Cairo on Thursday, Mr Annan - joint envoy for the UN and Arab League - rejected any military intervention in Syria.
One woman told the BBC's Paul Wood how two of her brothers were detained, and one was killed
"I hope no-one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation. I believe further militarisation will make the situation worse," he said after meeting Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi.
Separately, Beijing announced on Thursday that its envoy had talks in Syria this week with representatives of the government and the opposition.
China's foreign ministry said envoy Li Huaxin met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his deputy during a two-day visit.
Observers say Mr Li's visit is Beijing's latest attempt to counter charges by Western and Arab leaders that by vetoing two previous UN resolutions, China and Russia have aided the growing violence by Syrian government forces.
On Wednesday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said no options - including military action - had been ruled out to end the violence in Syria.
However Mr Panetta - appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee - stressed that the US still preferred a diplomatic solution.
Washington is currently trying to draft a new UN Security Council resolution to try to end the violence.
Russia and China said the earlier motions were unbalanced.
In Persia, an oppressive and vengeful leader seeks the total annihilation of the Jewish people. It sounds like a line from an Israeli speech, but it’s also the story of the Purim holiday that Jews mark this week.
From sundown on Wednesday, religious Jews will start the traditional reading of the Book of Esther, while their secular counterparts celebrate by dressing up as characters from the Purim story, and other less traditional figures.
This year the holiday has additional meaning for some, providing historical parallels as Israel’s leaders weigh their response to Iran’s nuclear program.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others here fear the program masks a weapons drive and argue that a nuclear-armed Iran would create a new Persian threat to the existence of the Jewish people.
In Washington this week, he presented U.S. President Barack Obama with a copy of the Book of Esther, which tells of the genocidal plot against the Jews devised by Haman the Agagite.
The gift sent a clear message, said Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi: “It helps Obama understand how Jews look at the world.”
Netanyahu also reportedly explicitly told Obama that Israel faced a modern-day Haman, and drew similar parallels in a speech to a U.S. pro-Israel lobby group.
“In every generation, there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people,” he said. “In this generation, we are blessed to live in an age when there is a Jewish state capable of defending the Jewish people.”
In Israel, others have made the connection, with senior ultra-Orthodox rabbi Ovadia Yosef warning last month: “There is now also a Haman in Persia.”
But while Netanyahu and his confidantes are said to be considering military action against Iran, Yosef noted that the Purim story teaches that salvation came through prayer.
“Tradition emphasizes that (the Book of Esther) is the only sacred text in the Hebrew Bible without God’s name in it, and that’s understood as an indication that this is a story that requires human initiative, that saving oneself requires human initiative, and that God’s help is implicit rather than overt,” he said.
“In that sense, Netanyahu is reading the Purim story correctly when he advocates active Israeli self defense against a perceived existential threat.”
Al Arabiya News
Members of the Muslim jihadist group Boko Haram are vowing to “eradicate Christianity” in Nigeria.
Reports coming out of Nigeria over the past several days show that the group whose name means “Western education is evil” is launching a new terror campaign aimed at killing Christians and Jews in northern Nigeria.
The Nigerian news site Bikya Masr reports that the jihadi group has declared war on all Christians living in northern Nigeria.
Human-rights group International Christian Concern’s Jonathan Racho confirms the reports and says the news is “alarming.”
“The reports indicate that members of Boko Haram recently declared a war on Christians in northern Nigeria. The group vowed to eradicate Christians from certain areas in Nigeria,” Racho said.
“The spokesman for the group (Boko Haram) say the group will launch a number of attacks targeting Christians,” Racho said. “So there are alarming developments even as we speak.”
Estimates put the casualties in Boko Haram’s campaign at more than 100 dead since Christmas.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs press service IRIN reports that in the past 48 hours, more than 100 children have fled Nigerian for Chad to escape Boko Haram’s violent rampage.
Human Rights Watch also reports that since Christmas, Boko Haram has burned more than a dozen schools.
Racho confirms the casualty figures.
“Boko Haram has already killed hundreds. Since Christmas alone, the group has martyred about 100 Christians in northern Nigeria,” Racho said.
“They think they have not met their goals for eradicating Christians,” Racho said. “They are prepared for more bloodshed.”
Racho adds that ICC is angered by the developments.
“We are very outraged. How can a country like Nigeria with all of its resources, its oil resources, security, military and all the resources. How could that kind of country fail to protect its innocents from these kinds of attacks?” Racho said.
“Boko Haram has been able to successfully attack Christians without being stopped and it’s just outrageous!” Racho said. “It’s unacceptable!”
“We are really concerned about the continued attacks against Christians in northern Nigeria,” Racho said.
Racho is calling on Christians in the United States and other countries to act.
“I urge Christians around the world to contact their governments and ask them to get Nigeria to protect its citizens,” Racho said.
he Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and HSBC joined 30 European banks and institutions in declaring their acceptance of the deal - but the tally was still far short of the 95pc needed to avoid being officially declared in default.
The International Institute of Finance (IIF), the body that has negotiated with the Greek government on behalf of bondholders, put out several announcements on Wednesday, counting the proportion of the vote as it inched up. The latest statement said bondholders “amounting in aggregate to €84bn, or 40.8pc of the €206bn total eligible debt” would support the deal.
The regular updates coincided with provocative comments from Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said he had discussed with Greece’s finance minister Evangelos Venizelos whether it would be better for the country to leave the euro.
Speaking at the European University Institute in Italy, Mr Schaeuble said he had discussed the issue “very openly” with Mr Venizelos.
“Maybe you could say it was the wrong decision for Greece to join the common European currency,” Mr Schaeuble said. “Greece has failed for a long time to deliver what is needed to be in a common currency.”
Creditors have until 8pm GMT on Thursday to agree to a €206bn bond restructuring - the biggest ever attempted. A total of 95pc of bondholders must accept the deal - agreeing to take losses of about 75pc - for it to count as “voluntary”.
Analysts said the hurdle is too high and Greece will have to resort to so-called Collective Action Clauses (CACs) to push though the deal. Athens has said it will activate the CACs, which will impose the deal on all bondholders, if between 66pc and 95pc accept the terms. Credit rating agencies have warned that the coercive nature of the CACs will constitute a default.
The International Swaps & Derivatives Association (ISDA), which determines if credit default insurance should be paid, is expected to reconvene if CACs are used.
Greece’s debt management agency has warned it “does not contemplate the availability of funds” to pay investors who refuse to vote for the deal. Even so, several Greek pension funds said they would not approve the debt swap.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said she was confident of a deal. Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch finance minister, refused to call it. Analysts said markets were expecting a default. After Tuesday’s sell-off, European markets closed mostly flat on the day.
BNP Paribas’ Jean Lemierre said a Greek default would result in poverty in Greece and would be “extremely dangerous” for the rest of the eurozone. But Simon Denham of Capital Spreads argued that traders were prepared for the “worst case scenario” and the “creditors of Greece would rather see a substantial writedown of their assets in exchange for other interest bearing bonds as opposed to losing the whole lot”, he said.
Analysts at RBS warned that Athens would need a third bail-out “similar to the current one” in order to meet its funding needs up until 2020. Even so, Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, wrote a letter to Lucas Papademos, the Greek prime minister, outlining a six point plan to “stimulate growth and competitiveness” in the shattered country.
Meanwhile, Ms Merkel privately admitted a mounting concern about Portugal’s rising borrowing costs. Sources told Reuters that the German Chancellor had told a group of officials “the risk premiums on Portuguese bonds are a worry”.
Spanish and Italian 10-year bond yields rose - to 5.1pc and 5.2pc respectively - after analysts at the IIF said a disorderly Greek default would also probably require “support to Spain and Italy to stem contagion there”. Fresh data showed German industrial orders fell unexpectedly in January.
Earlier today, we reported that Germans are increasingly concerned that their gold, at over 3,400 tons a majority of which is likely stored in the vault 80 feet below street level of 33 Liberty (recently purchased by the Fed with freshly printed money at far higher than prevailing commercial real estate rates for the Downtown NY area), may be in jeopardy,and will likely soon formally inquire just how much of said gold is really held by the Fed.
As it turns out, Germany is not alone: as part of the "Rettet Unser Schweizer Gold", or the “Gold Initiative”: A Swiss Initiative to Secure the Swiss National Bank’s Gold Reserves initiative, launched recently by four members of the Swiss parliament, the Swiss people should have a right to vote on 3 simple things:
i) keeping the Swiss gold physically in Switzerland
ii) forbidding the SNB from selling any more of its gold reserves
iii) the SNB has to hold at least 20% of its assets in gold.
Needless the say the implications of this vote actually succeeding are comparable to the Greeks holding a referendum on whether or not to be in the Eurozone. And everyone saw how quickly G-Pap was "eliminated" within hours of making that particular threat. Yet it begs the question: how many more international grassroots outcries for if not repatriation, then at least an audit of foreign gold held by the New York Fed have to take place, before Goldman's (and New York Fed's) Bill Dudley relents? And why are the international central banks not disclosing what their people demand, if only to confirm that the gold is present and accounted for, even if it is at the Federal Reserve?
US military officials said on Wednesday, March 7, that contrary to the prevailing impression, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed not only their dispute over an attack on Iran at their White House meeting on March 5, but devoted considerable attention to the Syrian crisis, focusing on the hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles armed with chemical and biological warheads possessed by Syria. The peril of the Assad regime launching them now tops America’s chart of the threats looming over Israel and Turkey, those sources told DEBKAfile.
The US president accordingly prevailed upon his Israeli guest to hurry up and patch up relations with Turkey, which he was willing to assist, because it would take a combined US-Turkish-Israeli military effort to ward off an attack by Syria’s poisoned missiles. Indeed, if the Syrian conflict is not solved, America might be forced to turn its missile shield against Bashar Assad’s missiles before they are needed against an Iranian attack.
The hazard could be accelerated by three elements, say American sources:
1. Assad might decide to respond with extreme violence to foreign military intervention in Syria, even an operation confined only to drawing the civilian population into security zones safe from the attacks of his security services.
On Tuesday, March 6, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan reverted to his call for security zones, and last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered humanitarian aid to Syria’s beleaguered civilian population. Both such actions, say the American sources, might well be taken by Assad as provocations deserving of reprisal by missiles – first those carrying chemical warheads, then biological ones.
Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai said Tuesday when he dedicated 14 public shelters at the two largest Druze communities in the Carmel district, Daliat al-Carmel and Usufiya, that “the Haifa district of the Home Front command is expected to be very important in the next war and we anticipate that hundreds of missiles will be fired at the home front.”
These shelters can accommodate 3,000 people.
2. Assad might respond to an Iranian request to take part in a preemptive strike launched by Tehran or Iranian retaliation for attacks on its nuclear facilities by the US or Israel.
3. Assad might transfer the unconventional missions to Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, the Hizballah - in which case, the US, Turkey and Israel would have no option but to smash them.
US military sources say that although Israel possesses a strong air force and special forces able to sabotage Assad’s chemical and biological missiles, the United States and Turkey would have to pitch in with military resources to destroy them completely.
That arsenal is being closely watched by US surveillance drones after the lessons from the Libyan war when at least 5,000 advanced anti-aircraft missiles were spirited out of Qaddafi’s weapons stores, some of them smuggled into Gaza for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Testifying to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, the Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey said the Assad regime had ““approximately five times more sophisticated air defenses than existed in Libya covering one-fifth of the terrain” and “about ten times more than we experienced in Serbia.” He also has chemical and biological weapons.
His words reinforced the testimony presented Tuesday to the Senate’s Armed Services Committee by two senior American generals. Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of the US Central Command which covers the Middle East and Gulf region, said: “Syria has a ‘substantial chemical and biological weapons capability and thousands of shoulder-launched missiles.”
Admiral William McRaven, head of the US Special Operations Command, also spoke to the committee about Syria’s weapons of mass destruction and American preparations to deal with this menace.
Those briefings were the first assessments of Syrian chemical and biological weapons capabilities to be given publicly by the heads of America's armed forces. This was the direct result, US sources say, of the candid and open conversation on the subject between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu Tuesday.
BEIJING - China is bringing workers home from Syria, its commerce minister said on Wednesday, in an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat of last year's eleventh-hour rescue of Chinese nationals from Libya when violence engulfed that country.
Only about 100 Chinese workers will be left behind to guard work camps and equipment, the minister, Chen Deming, said. He did not give figures for the total number of Chinese citizens or projects in Syria.
"The Chinese government and ministries must seriously undertake the protection of Chinese firms' production and projects overseas, and the protection of the lives of Chinese citizens overseas, especially engineering teams," Chen told reporters.
China sent an envoy to Damascus this week, even as closed-door meetings were held at the UN to discuss a US-drafted resolution urging an end to the Syrian government's increasingly lethal crackdown on a year-long revolt. China joined Russia to veto UN resolutions on Syria in October and February.
China was caught off guard last year when a civil war erupted in Libya. Nearly 36,000 of its nationals were frced to hastily leave the country. Chinese workers were involved in Libyan projects worth $17 billion, Chen said.
His remarks represent some of the most detailed comments by Beijing officials regarding Chinese interests in Libya. "The tragedy is that these projects were badly damaged during the instability, the civil war and the foreign intervention," Chen said.
"So we are negotiating with the Libyan government, we hope that the Libyan government can actually begin compensation for these projects in accordance with international norms." China was evaluating security in Libya, he said, but did not deem it safe enough for work on the projects to resume.
China's workers have been exposed to dangers when they go overseas in Sudan, Egypt, Niger and Pakistan, among other countries.
UNITED NATIONS - Russia accused Libya during a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday of running a training center for Syrian rebels and arming the fighters in their battle to overthrow the country's President Bashar Assad.
"We have received information that in Libya, with the support of the authorities, there is a special training center for the Syrian revolutionaries and people are sent to Syria to attack the legal government," Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the UN Security Council.
"This is completely unacceptable ... This activity is undermining stability in the Middle East," said Churkin, who also questioned whether "the export of revolution" was "turning into the export of terrorism."
In Syria, security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians during an 11-month crackdown on pro-democracy protests, according to the United Nations, and the outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing. Russia and China have twice used vetoes to block action by the UN Security Council.
Pro-democracy protests in the region, dubbed the Arab Spring, have toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Russia, which is Syria's main arms supplier and has use of a naval base there, has also repeatedly voiced anger over NATO air strikes that helped Libyan rebels drive Muammar Gaddafi from power last year and on Wednesday Churkin demanded that NATO recognize it caused civilian casualties and pay compensation.
Rights groups have said several dozen civilians were killed by NATO air strikes in Libya.
While Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib did not respond to Churkin's accusation that Libya was training Syrian rebels, he told the UN Security Council that Libya has already investigated the deaths of all civilians during the fighting.
"I hope that the reason for raising this matter will not be to impede or prevent the international community from interfering in the situation of other states where their peoples are being massacred and killed at the hands of their rulers," Keib said.
Libya said last month that it would donate $100 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian opposition and allow them to open an office in Tripoli.
Satellite photographs show the appearance of earth-moving vehicles and haulage lorries at Parchin, a military base where the IAEA said in its last report that Iranian scientists had experimented with a device that could only be used in the detonation system of a nuclear bomb.
When IAEA inspectors visited Iran last month, they were refused permission to visit Parchin. Since then, Tehran has partially backed down and conceded that the agency's experts can enter the location "once".
The satellite photographs appear to show a recent effort to sanitise the site beforehand, one IAEA official told the Associated Press news agency.
Last November, the IAEA said that experiments with the detonation system of nuclear weapons had been conducted inside a large metal container at Parchin.
Tehran adamantly denied this claim, which was carried under the heading "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear programme.
The IAEA explained the allegation was based on documents supplied by member states that purported to show that Iranian experts had studied the stages of how to build a nuclear weapon in the period before 2003.
The information suggested that "Iran constructed a large explosives containment vessel [at Parchin] in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments," said the report, adding that the IAEA had then independently obtained "commercial satellite images that are consistent with this information".
One particular method of detonating a nuclear device is by using a "neutron initiator".
Iran is believed to have carried out experiments with this technique, possibly at Parchin. If so, they might have left a radioactive residue in the soil. Part of the purpose of the proposed visit by IAEA inspectors will be to discover whether any such evidence is present.
If the experiments were carried out at Parchin, the experts would also try to establish when exactly they happened. American intelligence agencies delivered a combined judgment in 2007 stating that Iran had stopped all work of this kind in 2003.
However, other countries disagree and assess that Iran has subsequently pressed on with the experiments.
Any deliberate sanitisation of the site using the equipment shown in the satellite photographs could make it impossible to discover the truth.
Iran has resorted to this option before. Five years ago, the Lavizan Shian base was completely dismantled before the IAEA visited. This had been a suspected store for equipment needed in a military nuclear programme.
As international grows on Iran over its nuclear ambitions, an Israeli official claimed yesterday that President Barack Obama has promised to drop his opposition to military action against Iran if the Islamist regime does not abandon its programme within a year.
Mr Obama bowed to pressure from Benjamin Netanyahu during talks in Washington on Monday by agreeing to place a finite timetable on diplomatic efforts to end the nuclear impasse, an official in the Israeli prime minister's delegation was quoted as saying.
Such a concession would represent a significant shift in US policy at a time of growing concern in Washington that Israel is preparing to launch unilateral air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities within months.
"At first there was a gap between the Israeli assessment that an attack is necessary and the American belief that we could wait a year," the Israeli newspaper Maariv quoted the official as saying. "After the meeting, it can be said that though the two leaders did not reach an exact understanding, this gap has started to close.
"The American administration realised that it won't be possible to employ diplomacy for a full year."
No official has spoken in public about the contents of the two leaders' three-hour meeting. Although Mr Obama has notably toughened his rhetoric against Iran, he has continued to insist that new European Union and US sanctions against Tehran's central bank and energy sector be given a chance to work.
Members of his administration have also told Israel that it would be unwise to take action against Iran by itself. Gen Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Israeli strikes would only set back Iran's "nuclear programme" by a couple of years.
John Chipman, the head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British think tank, said yesterday that he concurred with Gen Dempsey's assessment, adding that the assurances Mr Obama had given in recent days meant that Israeli military action was now unlikely this year.
Mr Netanyahu, however, made no commitment to his host except to say that he had not yet decided whether to order air strikes.
The prime minister's national security adviser, the only other Israeli official to attend the meeting with Mr Obama, has suggested that this moment of reckoning is now close at hand. "Now we will have to sit down with ourselves, digest what was said by the Americans and decide," Yaakov Amidror told reporters.
Mr Netanyahu's intelligence chiefs have reportedly concluded that Israel has a window of just six to nine months before unilateral military action against Iran ceases to be effective, an analysis some observers say is deliberately overstated.
Israel has given a lukewarm welcome to a decision by Iran's six negotiating partners – Britain, the US, France, Germany, China and Russia – to accept an offer from Tehran to resume talks. The Israeli government is concerned that Iran's gesture is a ruse to give it diplomatic cover to press ahead with its nuclear programme while making the case for military action harder because negotiations are under way.