By Charles Recknagel, RFE/RL
A worker stands beside a production line of a Defense Ministry carbon-fiber factory in Tehran. Iran has begun producing its own fiber, which is under UN embargo because of its potential use in the country's controversial nuclear program.
No one knows yet what is in the UN nuclear agency's latest report on Iran's nuclear program, set to be released next week. But press leaks suggest the report could be a bombshell.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) in Vienna is expected to spell out in detail how Iran may have worked on designing an atomic warhead in recent years.
"The New York Times" quoted officials as saying privately the IAEA had collected evidence "suggesting that Iranian scientists have experimented with warhead designs, nuclear detonation systems, and specialized triggering devices that can be explained only as work on a nuclear weapon."
The report will be all the more explosive because it comes at a time when Iranian teams have recently begun moving centrifuge machines into a new underground facility.
The new facility at Fordow, an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base near Qom, is dug deep into a mountain in what many Western governments believe is an attempt to protect the centrifuges from any possible attack.
A file picture shows the uranium-enrichment complex of Natanz in central Iran (file photo from 2007).
At the same time, Iran continues to use centrifuges to enrich uranium at its long-standing but less fortified facility in Natanz. Iran so far has enriched uranium to a 20 percent concentration -- more than the 4 percent level needed for nuclear power fuel but still short of the 90 percent level needed for nuclear warheads.
Pressure Grows On Tehran
The report looks almost certain to result in new pressure on Iran to halt what increasingly looks like a determined drive to produce a nuclear weapon.
The IAEA has repeatedly referred Iran -- an IAEA member -- to the UN Security Council for sanctions and four rounds of sanctions already have been put in place. But Tehran continues to defy the IAEA's demands to halt uranium enrichment and assure the world its programs are only for nuclear energy.
U.S. President Barack Obama called for new pressure on Iran as he and other world leaders met at the Group of 20 summit in Cannes on November 3.
"We had the opportunity also to talk about a range of security issues. One in particular that I want to mention is the continuing threat posed by Iran's nuclear program," Obama said.
"The IAEA is scheduled to release a report on Iran's nuclear program next week, and [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy and I agree on the need to maintain the unprecedented international pressure on Iran to meet its obligations."
Is Israel Planning Attack?
Ahead of the report, tensions are also rising with growing media speculation that Israel is planning for potential military action against Tehran.
Israel's "Haaretz" newspaper reported on November 2 that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were working to gain support in the Israeli cabinet for a preemptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
That news came as the Israeli army this week tested a ballistic missile reported to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Iran.
A satellite view of Fordow facility near Qom, Iran.
Photograph: DIGITAL GLOBE
At the same time, Britain's daily "The Guardian" reported that the British Defense Ministry "believes the United States may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities."
The news stories generated hot debate of their own, with NATO's secretary-general firmly distancing the alliance from them. Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on November 3 that "NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Iran, and NATO is not engaged as an alliance in the Iran question.”
Still, the question of whether Israel could attack Iran is not likely to go away. "Statements made by Israeli authorities have apparently convinced the heads of important Western countries so that they now call Iran not only a threat to Israel but also a threat to themselves," says Hooshang Hassanyari, head of the politics and economics department at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario.
"They have also managed to convince some of Iran's neighbors, too, to see Iran as a threat to these neighboring countries. I think the threat of the military option is very serious, and it should be taken seriously."
Israel has twice before struck nuclear sites in the Mideast region: Iraq's Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 and a suspected Syrian facility in 2007. A media poll this week in Israel showed that 41 percent of Israelis supported strikes on Iran, while 39 percent were opposed and 20 percent undecided.
Current estimates suggest that Iran will be capable of completing a bomb in 2015-16.
'All Options On The Table'
Iran has responded to the war talk in Israel with bellicose statements of its own. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi reportedly said Iran was "always ready for war" and warned the United States against "entering a collision course" with the Islamic republic, although the Iranian Embassy in Ankara subsequently denied Salehi had made the remark.
Whether there is any substance this weeks saber-rattling or whether it is simply intended to sway opinions ahead of the IAEA report's release is an open question. But amid the war of words there were clear signs that for now, anyway, the pressure from the West is for more diplomacy, not strikes.
"We have said many times in the last weeks and months that we do not seek a military confrontation with Iran. That remains our position," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington on November 3.
"That said, we are going to use every means at our disposal to continue to try to increase the international pressure on Iran to meet its IAEA obligations and to come clean on its nuclear program."
London, too, responded to the war talk by reiterating it wanted to see stepped-up pressure on Iran to resume negotiations over the nuclear crisis.
The British government said in a statement it "believes that a dual-track strategy of pressure and engagement is the best approach to address the threat from Iran's nuclear program and avoid regional conflicts."
But in a warning that the Western powers' patience is not open-ended, London added a phrase often heard in other Western capitals as well: "We want a negotiated solution, but all options should be kept on the table."
RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report
Copyright (c) 2011 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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