VIENNA (AP) — Israel's foreign minister warned Thursday that Iran is using Mideast unrest as a smoke screen to advance missile and nuclear programs in its alleged development of nuclear arms.
Avigdor Lieberman also urged would-be participants in a flotilla of ships planning to break an Israeli sea blockade of Gaza to give up their plans and deliver their aid to U.N. supervised ports for distribution.
Lieberman spoke to reporters Thursday after meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, on issues that both men said included the flotilla as well as efforts by Palestinian leaders to gain U.N recognition of a Palestinian state.
Spindelegger said that Austria had not yet made up its mind on U.N. recognition, adding that he preferred a joint EU approach to the issue
Between 300 and 400 international activists aboard 10 ships had been due to sail this week to Gaza to try and break the naval blockade Israel imposed after Hamas militants overran the Palestinian territory in 2007. But their departure has been beset by delays that the activists blame in part on Israel.
Last year, an Israeli raid on a similar flotilla killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel with each side blaming the other for the violence. On Thursday, Lieberman refused to be drawn on what means the Jewish state would apply this time to prevent a breach of the blockade.
Instead, he said Israel wanted organizers to bring their aid to ports "where there are U.N authorities" who will the distribute the supplies.
Frequent Israeli depictions of Iran as representing the greatest danger to Mideast peace received enforcement Wednesday with British warnings that the Islamic Republic has conducted secret tests of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Britain believes Tehran has conducted at least three secret tests of medium-range ballistic missiles since October, amid an apparent escalation of its nuclear program and increased scrutiny from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Like its missile program, Iran's nuclear activities are under U.N. Security Council sanctions because of fears Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons — something the Islamic Republic denies.
A U.N. Panel of Experts report leaked to the media last month reported that Iran conducted secret ballistic missile tests in October and February.
Lieberman on Thursday said Iran is exploiting "international community ... attention to the Arab Spring to develop and move as soon as possible with their nuclear and missile programs."