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Iran nuclear program on "explosive" path: Saudi Prince

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran is on an “explosive” course in the Middle East with its pursuit of nuclear enrichment and needs to clear up questions surrounding its program, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said on Thursday.

Prince Turki, a former Saudi intelligence chief and former ambassador to the United States, said Washington should not take military steps against Iran’s nuclear program to reassure Israelis over the peace process with Palestinians.

“No one denies that a nuclear Iran is a major international danger, but claiming that the U.S. must take military action against Iran to push forward the Israeli-Palestine peace process is to attempt to harvest apples by cutting down the tree,” he said.

Prince Turki, discussing the Middle East peace process in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said a war over Iran’s nuclear program would be “calamitous and not just catastrophic.” It would turn back the clock on peacemaking across the Middle East, from Iraq to Israel, he said.

“The Iranians have to be aware of the explosive nature ... of pursuing their present course of enrichment,” he said.

The United States last month announced plans to sell Saudi Arabia up to $60 billion in military aircraft, a deal designed to shore up Arab allies increasingly jittery over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The United States and other countries are concerned that Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is aimed at developing atomic weapons, but Tehran denies that. It says the enrichment program is to produce fuel for atomic power.

While the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows Iran to enrich uranium, “everybody recognizes that they have not lived up to the requirements” of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“They have to come clean on whatever it is that remains as question marks to the world community, and not just the United States and the West,” he added.

Iran has indicated it is willing to meet world powers involved in talks over the nuclear dispute -- the United States, Germany, France, China, Britain and Russia -- later this month at a time and place to be determined.

It would be the first meeting of the group in more than a year and the first since the United Nations, the United States and the European Union imposed tougher sanctions on Iran earlier this year.

The world powers are hoping Iran will agree to a swap of low-enriched uranium in exchange for nuclear fuel to power the Tehran Research Reactor.

“We do believe that the Tehran Research Reactor offer can create some confidence building,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Thursday.

He said the deal needed to be updated to account for additional uranium Iran has enriched over the past year, but Iran’s envoy to the IAEA in Vienna dismissed that proposal earlier this week.

Reporting by David Alexander and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Beech