The showdown over Iran's nuclear pursuit is "still in the stage of diplomacy," and extended sanctions against the regime could help prevent it from acquiring atomic weapons, Israel's defense minister said in comments broadcast Sunday.
"I think that it's still in the stage of diplomacy," Ehud Barak told CNN in an interview.
"I still believe that much more active sanctions can cause the regime to have a second thought" about pursuing a weapons drive, which is at the heart of the concerns by western powers over Iran's nuclear program.
Barak's comments came days after the first international talks in 14 months were held on the Islamic republic's nuclear program, which concluded with an agreement to meet again in Istanbul in late January to discuss ways to resolve what the European Union described as "core concerns about the nuclear issue."
But even as diplomatic efforts between Iran and the six international powers engaged once again, Barak reiterated a long-held Israeli principle -- that the Jewish state would not sit idle if it felt a Tehran nuclear weapons drive was putting Israel under direct threat.
"As I've said earlier, we recommend to you (the Americans) and to the Europeans not to remove any option from the table and we mean it."
When asked directly if Israel would authorize an attack on Iran should sanctions fail, Barak said: "I don't think that we have to answer these questions.
"Of course, we have a right of self-defense, and it's a basic right of individuals in any country, including this continent or in Europe, to live in safety and to live free of fear."
Iran is currently under four sets of U.N. sanctions over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, the sensitive process which can be used to make nuclear fuel or, in highly extended form, the fissile core of an atom bomb.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called on the six countries -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- to lift international sanctions against his country if they want the talks to bear fruit.
On Friday western nations accused Iran of stepping up illegal arms trading and made calls for tougher U.N. sanctions, after the seizure of 13 containers of rockets, mortars and other weapons in Nigeria last month and up to seven tonnes of high explosive in Italy in September.
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