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US considers emergency hot line with Iran: official
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sept 19, 2011

The United States is considering setting up a direct military hotline with Iran after a series of close encounters between US and Iranian forces in the Gulf, a defense official said Monday.

Fearing that a misunderstanding could lead to wider conflict, US officials are weighing establishing emergency communications but a final decision is still pending, said the defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"This idea has been circulating for a while in some places, but it's just that at this point: an idea. No such proposal has been reviewed by the secretary of defense," the official told AFP.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the possible hotline, saying the United States was especially concerned about a fleet of speedboats that often challenge US and allied warships that transit the Persian Gulf.

The high-performance Iranian vessels are likely controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran's elite military force, and can be equipped with missiles.

In recent months, a British destroyer fired warning shots at one of these boats as it appeared to be preparing to ram the larger ship, according to The Journal.

Iranian aircraft have also challenged US ships, the paper said.

At least initially, defense officials are interested in expanding navy-to-navy contacts with Iran to prevent miscalculations, The Journal said.

But the military remains wary of any direct engagement with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, due to its deep ties to Middle East militant groups that Washington has designated as terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

It remained unclear if the hotline proposal has been informally raised with Iran, possibly through Iraq, The Journal said.

Iran's president and foreign minister will be in New York this week to attend the annual UN General Assembly meeting.

The Pentagon said that US forces would safeguard American interests and allies in the region.

"We continue to be concerned about Iran's destabilizing activities and ambitions, and we remain firmly committed to protecting our personnel, our interests, and our partners in the region," press secretary George Little said.

"We have consistently conveyed to Iran that it must halt its destabilizing behavior and avoid any provocations in the Gulf, Iraq, or elsewhere."

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US slams Iran at UN atomic agency meet
Vienna (AFP) Sept 19, 2011 - The United States took a renewed swipe at Iran Monday, telling the annual gathering of the UN atomic agency Tehran was creeping "still closer" to producing nuclear weapons-grade uranium.

"Iran has continued to engage in a longstanding pattern of denial, deceit and evasion," US Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the 151-nation International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) general conference in Vienna.

He said a recent example of Iran's "provocative behaviour" was to begin installing facilities to enrich uranium, which can be used for nuclear power as well as atomic weapons, at an underground facility near Qom.

"Expanding, and moving underground, its enrichment ... marks a significant provocation and brings Iran still closer to having the capacity to produce weapons grade uranium," Chu said, according to the text of his speech.

"Iran's government has a choice: it can comply with its obligations and restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear activities, or it can face deepening isolation and international censure."

The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activities, which the Islamic republic says are peaceful but which Western powers suspect are aimed at developing atomic weapons.

Iran's atomic chief Fereydoun Abbasi Davani however dismissed Chu's claims.

"The reason we moved to an underground site is that we want to make the Americans and their allies work tougher to destroy it," he told reporters in Vienna.

A report presented to the 35-member IAEA board in Vienna last week said the agency was "increasingly concerned" about a possible military dimension to Iran's nuclear work, about which it "continues to receive new information".

The IAEA's general conference runs to Friday.

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