Russia and China have expressed growing concern about a possible American military strike against Iran over its nuclear programme.
And this week the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to publish a damning report with ‘compelling evidence’ that Iran is secretly building an arsenal of nuclear warheads.
Fresh details suggest that Iran could even be ‘nuclear ready’ within months.
And laying bare the disturbing extent of the country’s atomic weapons programme will increase calls in the United States for pre-emptive action against the Islamic state.
And that plays into the hands of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is said to be pushing for an airstrike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
However, Iran has threatened to retaliate by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, severing 40 per cent of the world’s oil supplies.
Russia’s foreign minister today became the latest critic of any proposed action against Iran warning it would be ‘a very serious mistake fraught with unpredictable consequences’.
Sergei Lavrov added: ‘The only path for removing concerns is to create every possible condition’ to resume the talks between Iran and six world powers, which broke down last December.
China has also expressed concern about a military strike against Iran, but has also urged Tehran not to be confrontational with the IAEA.
Moscow and Beijing have signaled concern that the report will box Iran into a corner and dim any chance of diplomacy resolving the dispute, which has the potential to spark a wider conflict in the Middle East.
‘The Russians in particular have been lobbying quite intensively,’ one senior Western diplomat said.
Meanwhile former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has weighed in to slam Iran saying the U.S. should consider even tougher penalties against the Iranian government and ‘be doing everything we can to bring it down.’
Rice told ABC’s This Week that the U.S. should never take the option of military force off the table when it comes to dealing with Iran.
The current Iranian government is trying to obtain a nuclear weapon and has repressed its own people, she said.
‘The regime has absolutely no legitimacy left,’ she added.
Israeli President Shimon Peres has also expressed a determination to launch a military strike against Iran.
‘The possibility of a military attack against Iran is now closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option,’ he said over the weekend.
‘I estimate that intelligence services of all these countries are looking at the ticking clock, warning leaders that there was not much time left,’ he added.
Republican candidate Rick Perry, last week came out to back an Israeli air strike on Iran.
The Texas Governor said he would support Israel on the matter if there is proof Tehran is moving closer to having a nuclear weapon.
The news comes as a former Soviet weapons expert and scientists in Pakistan and North Korea are all believed to have aided Iran in its nuclear quest, according to the United Nations.
The latest intelligence provided to UN nuclear officials, due for publication on Wednesday and obtained by the Washington Post, suggests former Soviet weapons scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko allegedly taught Iranians how to build high-precision detonators that could trigger a chain reaction during the mid 1990s.’
But it makes clear the Iranians want to be able to build such weapons quickly if need be.
And thanks to outside help, the Iranians are now on ‘the threshold’ of making a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on top of a ballistic missile, says the study.
One key technical breakthrough, say the IAEA’s intelligence sources, is that Iran has learnt how to design a device known as an R265 generator.
It added there was also evidence to suggest other precision technology linked to experts in Pakistan and North Korea had helped advance Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Iranian officials appear unconcerned.
Iran’s foreign minister and former nuclear official, Ali Akbar Salehi, told the Mehr News Agency: ‘Let them publish and see what happens,’ adding that the uproar over the country’s nuclear programme was ’100 per cent political’ and that the IAEA is ‘under pressure from foreign powers.’
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday the U.S. feared Iran’s growing military power because it is now able to compete with Israel and the West.
‘Yes, we have military capabilities that are different from any other country in the region,’ he said. ‘Iran is increasing in capability and advancement and therefore we are able to compete with Israel and the West and especially the United States.’
‘The U.S. fears Iran’s capability. Iran will not permit (anyone from making) a move against it.’
One part of the IAEA’s report is thought to reinforce concerns that Iran continued its nuclear programme after 2003 – the year that U.S. intelligence agencies believed it had bowed to international pressures to halt experiments.
One Iranian document suggests scientists had been discussing plans to start a four-year study of neutron initiators beginning in 2007 – four years after the 2003 deadline, according to sources.
‘The programme never really stopped,’ David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector who has seen the intelligence files said according to the Washington Post.
‘After 2003, money was made available for research in areas that sure look like nuclear weapons work but were hidden within civilian institutions,’ he added.
Tehran denies secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, insisting it is enriching uranium for reactors to generate electricity.
But Iran has become increasingly belligerent in recent weeks because of constant Western threats and tensions are continuing to mount over its ambitions.
The country’s history of concealing sensitive nuclear activity and its refusal to suspend work that can potentially yield atomic bombs have already been punished by four rounds of U.N. sanctions, and separate U.S. and European punitive steps.
Earlier this week, it was revealed Britain was drawing up contingency plans for any military action.
Commanders were working out how to deploy Navy submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles in case President Barack Obama decides to launch missile strikes against Iranian bases.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak are reportedly agitating for pre-emptive action.
Mr Netanyahu is seeking Cabinet support for an attack and earlier this week Israel test-fired a new long-range missile.
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