MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States has asked Russia to inform Iran's leadership that forthcoming talks with six world powers over its nuclear programme will be Tehran's "last chance", a Moscow daily quoted a Russian diplomatic source on Wednesday as saying.
"The Israelis are de-facto blackmailing (President Barack) Obama. They put him into an interesting position: either he backs war or loses the support (of the U.S. Jewish lobby)," the well-connected Kommersant newspaper quoted the source as saying.
Speculation has been growing in recent months that Israel, with or without U.S. support, could launch some form of strike against the nuclear installations of its arch-enemy Iran.
The big power group of countries comprised of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany accepted an offer last week from Tehran for new talks on its nuclear energy programme, which the West fears is a front to create a nuclear weapon. Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, offered to bring unspecified "new initiatives" to the table.
"The Americans are insisting that it (the meeting) is the last chance for Tehran," Kommersant said. "Such a position, the source told Kommersant, was stated by Hillary Clinton at talks with (Russian Foreign Minister) Sergei Lavrov. She also asked her Russian colleague to pass on this message to Iranian authorities, with whom Washington does not have any links."
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said he could neither confirm nor deny the information published in Kommersant. He did not elaborate.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "We don't comment on our private diplomatic exchanges, but as we've said before, we still believe there's time for a diplomatic solution so long as Iran is serious about addressing the international community's concerns."
Kommersant quoted Deputy Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying that passing on such a message would be unprofessional.
The date and the venue for the talks are yet to be agreed. The diplomat told Kommersant they would take place in April.
The unnamed diplomat said a military strike on Iran could happen before the end of the year.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the United States would take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if diplomacy was ultimately judged to have failed.
Panetta was reported in February by David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist who specializes in intelligence, as believing there was a "strong likelihood" that Israel would attack Iran's nuclear sites within the next six months.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk in Moscow and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich