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Israel, Iran Reportedly Held Secret Nuclear Talks

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Several eyewitnesses and news reports say Israeli and Iranian representatives spoke directly during a multi-national conference on nuclear disarmament last month in Egypt.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Israeli and Iranian delegates directly engaged each other during a meeting of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament held behind closed doors at a Cairo hotel last month.

The Reuters news agency reported an Israeli official who wished to remain unidentified said the Cairo talks were unusual in that they featured a direct dialogue. AFP, the French news agency, reports an unnamed Egyptian official who attended the conference as saying Israel and Iran were involved in "round-table" and "cross-table" discussions "with accusations."

But, a spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization denied the Iranian and Israeli representatives engaged in any sort of dialogue at the event. Ali Shirzadian reiterated that Iran views Israel as "illegitimate."

Israel and Iran do not have diplomatic ties and the meeting would be among the few official contacts between the two countries in the past 30 years.

Israeli analyst Eldad Pardo says the possibility of talks could be a sign that Iran is feeling the pressure from the international community to come clean on its nuclear program. "Iran wants some respite. They need some time off in order to handle the deep crisis that they are in. They try to draw the conclusion and apply a more pragmatic policy at least in the short run," he said.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But Israel believes the Islamic Republic is seeking nuclear weapons, which it sees a threat. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe the Jewish state off the map, and Israel has said that if diplomacy fails it might launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Pardo believes a meeting could ease tensions. "This is really exceptional. I think it is also a kind of declaration that there is a change in atmosphere and the region moves more into a dialogue atmosphere," he said.

Israel is widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country that has nuclear weapons, but it has never admitted it. According to Ha'aretz, when the Iranian representative asked directly whether Israel has nuclear weapons, his Israeli counterpart just smiled and did not respond.