Israel cautions against Obama dialogue with Iran

JERUSALEM Thu Nov 6, 2008 8:53am EST

1 of 3. Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni speaks during a Policy and Strategy Conference in Jerusalem October 5, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said Thursday U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's stated readiness to talk to Iran could be seen in the Middle East as a sign of weakness in efforts to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

"We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue -- in a situation where you have brought sanctions, and you then shift to dialogue -- is liable to be interpreted as weakness," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, asked on Israel Radio about policy change toward Tehran in an Obama administration.

Her remarks sounded the first note of dissonance with Obama by a senior member of the Israeli government since the Democrat's sweeping victory over Republican candidate John McCain in the U.S. presidential election Tuesday.

Asked if she supported any U.S. dialogue with Iran, Livni replied: "The answer is no."

Livni, leading the centrist Kadima party into Israel's February 10 parliamentary election, also said "the bottom line" was that the United States, under Obama, "is also not willing to accept a nuclear Iran."

Obama has said he would harden sanctions on Iran but has also held out the possibility of direct talks with U.S. adversaries to resolve problems, including the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The West believes Iran's nuclear enrichment program is aimed at building atomic weapons, an allegation the Islamic Republic denies.

Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, has said Iran's nuclear program is a threat to its existence and that it was keeping all options on the table to stop it.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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