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Iran Heads Toward Nuclear `Breakthrough,' Israel Says (Update2)

By Mark Drajem and Janine Zacharia

Aug. 1-- Iran is on a path toward a ``major breakthrough'' in its nuclear program that is ``unacceptable,'' Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz told a Washington audience today.

``It is an existential threat,'' Mofaz said at a forum on Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. ``We have to make sure we are prepared for every option.''

Mofaz, a former Israeli army chief of staff, is a potential future leader of Israel because of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's planned departure from office. Mofaz is competing with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for control of the ruling Kadima party after Olmert said July 30 that he won't compete in the party's Sept. 17 primary amid a corruption scandal.

While Mofaz accused the Iranian government of ``buying time'' in its resistance to international pressure to suspend uranium enrichment, he said the diplomatic ``track'' should continue.

``We don't want war, we want peace,'' Mofaz said. ``But we will not let the second Holocaust take place.''

The comments from Mofaz, who also serves as transportation minister, echoed statements he made last month to the Jerusalem Post that ``all options are on the table. If there won't be a choice other than a nuclear Iran or a military option, it's clear what our decision has to be.''

Similar threats he made in June contributed to a surge in oil prices.

U.S.-Israeli Talks

Mofaz is heading the Israeli team taking part in a strategic dialogue with the U.S. this week in Washington, a forum in which the sides meet every few months to discuss regional threats.

Israel is seeking to be integrated into an American early warning system to help alert it to the firing of long-range missiles in the region. Iran test-fired such a missile earlier this month.

Nicholas Burns, the former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the forum that diplomacy needs ``time and patience'' to succeed. Burns was instrumental in building the U.S. strategy of escalating sanctions on Iran through the United Nations Security Council.

``Before we can even begin to consider the prospect of force, we need to pursue this diplomatic process,'' Burns said.

The five permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K., plus Germany have proposed an economic and technological incentives package for Iran in exchange for a halt to enrichment.

At talks in Geneva on July 19, European diplomats and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns gave Iran two weeks to reply to the offer and to their repeated calls for it to halt enrichment.

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