Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Despite extensive international pressure, the threat of Iran becoming a nuclear power has not been neutralized and is "out of control" at the moment, analysts here said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has given Iran until late November to give a complete report on its nuclear development program.
Oil-rich Iran insists that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes. But the U.S. is convinced that Iran is using the cover of a civilian nuclear program to pursue an atomic bomb.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton recently said that the Iranian nuclear weapons program, which the U.S. has been trying to refer to the U.N. Security Council for more than a year, amounts to "a threat of international peace and security." He said Iran needed to be put in the "international spotlight" to explain what it is doing.
But analysts here said despite the world attention focused on Iran, Tehran has not backed down from its nuclear aspirations.
Dr. Shai Feldman, head of Tel Aviv University's Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, said over the past year, there has been "dangerous progress in Iran's nuclear program, particularly in the realm of uranium enrichment."
Feldman said Iran is now closer than ever to producing the fissile material from which nuclear weapons can be manufactured. "This is of course a major challenge to the international community," he said.
However, there is also a growing "international awareness" of the problem -- unlike the situation in the late 1970s and 80s, when Iraq was also pursuing nuclear weapons.
In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor shortly before it was to become radioactive. The bombing brought Israel international condemnation, but 10 years later at the start of the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, Western leaders thanked Israel for its foresight.
"To the extent that the Israeli military operation in 1981 was propelled by the international indifference to what the Iraqis were doing -- that is not exactly the case right now with respect to Iran," Feldman said.
While he was not willing to guess at the likelihood that Israel might launch a military strike against Iran's nuclear reactor, Feldman said that the U.S. seemed closer than ever to possibly using force against Iran.
"The U.S. has stated on more than one occasion that Iran's possession [of nuclear weapons] is unacceptable. There is a process to prevent it through diplomacy [but] time is running out," Feldman said.
Iran has continued to work on its equipment for the enrichment of uranium, a process that can be used for civilian purposes or to make an atomic bomb.
The U.S. and other are realizing that the situation is "reaching a critical point," he said, where the "means of dissuading" the Iranians are being exhausted.
"They've been given one last chance before this is referred to the UN Security Council. This is an indication that this problem has not been dealt with [and] to a large extent is out of control at the moment," he said.
According to an article in the New York Times on Tuesday, the Bush administration is talking with its European allies on the possibility of offering Iran a package of "economic incentives" -- including the possibility of importing nuclear fuel and the lifting of economic penalties that would allow Iran to import spare parts for its aging civilian airlines -- in exchange for a suspension of its uranium enrichment program.
Such a move would be a complete turnaround for the administration, which has been reluctant to offer incentives and instead has been calling for the matter to be referred to the Security Council, where sanctions would be slapped on Tehran for non-compliance.
Despite the situation, Feldman said, as long as the Iranians have not yet begun enrichment, they have not reached the point of no return.
While Iran would probably never declare all its nuclear activities, the IAEA would be involved in verifying if Iran was fulfilling steps to which it had committed itself.
There have been many cases in the past, he said, where countries reversed their course under international pressure and abandoned their pursuit of or possession of nuclear weapons, such as in South Africa, South Korea, Sweden and Taiwan, he said.
If the acquisition can be postponed for five or 10 years, leaders can change, he said. "Time is very important."