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Tehran six months off nuclear arms ability: Israel

Abraham Rabinovich
The Australian
September 21, 2005

IRAN may be only six months away from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has claimed.

The assessment, which he said was based on Israeli intelligence, differs from US intelligence assessments that Iran could not begin producing nuclear weapons for another decade.

"Our experts say they are very close to this (production) stage," Mr Shalom said. "They may need only another six months."

He did not say how long it would take Iran to produce weapons. The warning came as British diplomats said most members of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency were in favour of referring Iran to the UN Security Council because of its nuclear program.

As member states of the nuclear watchdog met in Vienna to decide how to respond to Tehran's defiant stand, British, French and German officials lobbied for possible international sanctions against Iran.

A British diplomat said: "We have a critical mass of support."

He said the approach set out by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Saturday had hardened attitudes towards Tehran.

About 20 countries are now thought to favour referral to the Security Council, including all EU states, the US, Australia, Singapore and Peru.

Twelve of the Non-Aligned Movement states are opposed but may be persuaded to abstain. The strongest opponent, Russia, says matters concerning Iran's nuclear program should be dealt with only by the IAEA.

The Bush administration, which has long campaigned to have Iran referred to the UN, said yesterday that the move was "long overdue".

Israel has been watching with caution the negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program.

The head of the Knesset, or parliamentary, foreign affairs and defence committee, Yuval Steinitz, said North Korea had provided long-range missiles to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya.

North Korea had supplied Iran, as well as Egypt, with technology for the No Dong 1200km range surface-to-surface missile, capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

Israel has always maintained a policy of ambiguity regarding its own nuclear capacity, neither confirming nor denying it. There is no pressure regarding the issue from the US or Europe and none is expected.

If such pressure should arise in the future, Israel is likely to declare it is the only country in the world whose existence is openly threatened by some of its neighbours, notably Iran, where some senior officials have openly spoken of their desire to see Israel destroyed.

Israeli observers believe the European nations are reluctant to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear development for fear Tehran would substantially raise the price of its oil.

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