July 17, 2013 / 12:44 PM / 6 years ago

Iran's Rouhani says Israel threats 'laughable'

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday it was laughable for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say that Tehran was getting close to Israel’s “red line” over its nuclear program and derided the Jewish state’s ability to strike Iran.

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani gestures to the media during a news conference in Tehran June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Fars News/Majid Hagdost

The election of relative moderate Rouhani last month led to hopes amongst some in the West of progress towards resolving the decade-old nuclear dispute. But Netanyahu warned the world not to be distracted by crises in Syria and Egypt.

Israel, believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has said it is keeping all options open to prevent Iran amassing enough uranium to fuel one nuclear bomb.

Iran was approaching that red line, Netanyahu said, and had to be stopped. Israel and Western powers believe Iran’s program is a veiled attempt to achieve a nuclear arms capability.

Tehran says its aims are entirely peaceful and geared towards generating electricity and aiding medical research.

“There has been a lot of talk that this option is on the table,” said Rouhani, referring to Israel’s veiled threats.

“You laugh when you hear them,” Rouhani told veterans of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. “Who are the Zionists to threaten us?”

Rouhani, who takes office next month, has indicated he would like a less confrontational approach to nuclear talks with six world powers than current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who also offended the West by calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

But Rouhani is still very much an Islamic Republic insider who may offer more of a change of style rather than substance, especially as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on the nuclear dispute and strategic policy issues.

Senior diplomats from the six powers negotiating with Tehran - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - met in Brussels on Tuesday to map out plans for diplomacy following Rouhani’s June 14 presidential election win.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees the talks on behalf of the six powers, said they were waiting for Tehran to nominate a new team of negotiators before making concrete plans.

“We very much hope that will be soon,” she said on Tuesday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also said talks should resume.

“Mr. Rouhani should assume the responsibility and appoint the negotiating team,” the IRNA state news agency quoted Salehi as saying on Wednesday.

Negotiations have been on hold since a failed round in April and the six nations are keen to get back to the table amid concerns a breakdown in diplomacy could prompt Israel to attack Iran and start a new war in the Middle East.

Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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