Bibi warns of Iran talks trap ‘Stuxnet good idea’

OTTAWA, March 3, (Agencies): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday global powers would be falling into a trap if they pursued talks with Iran and he challenged Tehran with a series of demands before he meets US President Barack Obama.
But at the same time, Netanyahu was careful at a news conference with Canada’s leader to avoid widening a rift with Obama over what Washington fears could be an Israeli rush to attack Iranian nuclear facilities before economic sanctions and diplomacy run their course.
Israel, Netanyahu said, has not set nor does it intend to set red lines for the United States in preventing Iran from using its uranium enrichment program to obtain nuclear weapons.
Facing sanctions that could cripple its oil exports, Iran said last month it wanted to resume talks on its nuclear programme, negotiations frozen since January last year. But six big powers, represented by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, have yet to respond to the offer.
“It (Iran) could do again what it has done before, it could pursue or exploit the talks as they’ve done in the past to deceive and delay so that they can continue to advance their nuclear program and get to the nuclear finish line by running up the clock, so to speak,” Netanyahu said.
“I think the international community should not fall into this trap,” he told reporters, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a staunch ally of Israel, at his side.
A report by the IAEA last week said Iran was significantly stepping up uranium enrichment, a finding that sent oil prices higher on fears tensions between Tehran and the West could escalate into military conflict.
In some of his strongest comments yet on Iran, Obama said in an interview published on Friday that “all options are on the table” for dealing with Iran’s nuclear plans and added that the final option was the “military component.”
Setting what a spokesman for Netanyahu called new benchmarks, the Israeli leader demanded Iran dismantle an underground nuclear facility near the city of Qom, stop uranium enrichment and remove all uranium enriched above 3.5 percent from the country.
Israel fears the Fordow enrichment site, in a mountain outside Qom, would create “a zone of immunity” from Israeli air strikes.
Iran two years ago started refining uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent at another more vulnerable site, Natanz — far more than the 3.5 percent level usually required to power nuclear energy plants.
Tehran says it will use 20 percent-enriched uranium to convert into fuel for a research reactor making isotopes to treat cancer patients, but Western officials say they doubt that the country has the technical capability to do that.
Nuclear bombs require uranium enriched to 90 percent, but Western experts say much of the effort required to get there is already achieved once it reaches 20 percent concentration, shortening the time needed for any nuclear weapons “break-out.”
Elsewhere, the Stuxnet computer virus sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program was a “good idea” but it lent legitimacy to the use of malicious software as a weapon, according to a former CIA director.
“We have entered into a new phase of conflict in which we use a cyber weapon to create physical destruction,” retired general Michael Hayden said in an interview with the CBS television show “60 Minutes” to be aired on Sunday.
“This was a good idea, alright?” Hayden said of Stuxnet in excerpts from the interview released by CBS.
“But I also admit this was a big idea, too,” he said. “The rest of the world is looking at this and saying ‘Clearly, someone has legitimated this kind of activity as acceptable.’
“There are those out there who can take a look at this ... and maybe even attempt to turn it to their own purposes,” he said.
Hayden served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to early 2009. He headed the top secret National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005.
Hayden was no longer CIA director when the Stuxnet attack occurred and CBS said he denied in the interview knowing who was behind it.
Suspicion has fallen on Israel and the United States, which have accused Iran of seeking to develop a weapons capability under the cover of a civilian nuclear drive. Tehran denies the charges.
Sean McGurk, a former cybersecurity official in the Department of Homeland Security, expressed concern that Stuxnet could be redirected by terrorists or a rogue country against power, water or even nuclear plants in the United States.
“You can download the actual source code of Stuxnet now and you can repackage it ... point it back to wherever it came from,” McGurk told 60 Minutes.
McGurk, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, said he would have advised against the use of such a weapon.
“They opened the box,” he said. “They demonstrated the capability ... it’s not something that can be put back.”
Stuxnet, which was detected in July 2010, targeted computer control systems made by German industrial giant Siemens and commonly used to manage water supplies, oil rigs, power plants and other critical infrastructure.
Most Stuxnet infections were discovered in Iran, giving rise to speculation it was intended to sabotage nuclear facilities there, especially the Russian-built atomic power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.
According to computer security firm Symantec, Stuxnet may have been specifically designed to disrupt the motors that power gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

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