Thursday, March 09, 2006

Britain Takes Iran's Threats Seriously

Britain said on Thursday it was taking seriously threats from Iran that it could inflict "pain" to match any measures the U.N. Security Council takes to punish Tehran for refusing to halt its disputed nuclear work.

A senior British official closely involved in the Iranian nuclear case, said the language used by a top Iranian security official who on Wednesday warned Iran could inflict "harm and pain" in return for any Security Council steps, was familiar.

"There has been nothing explicit but it is a thinly veiled threat to use violence," said the British official. READ MORE

Iran's comments, following a meeting by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog which agreed to send the dispute over Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council, fueled speculation that Iran may help Iraqi insurgents target western troops in Iraq.

"The Iranians in Iraq have backed both parties inside the political process and organizations and militias outside the political process and they continue to do so," he said.

The United States and European Union want to exert pressure on Iran to stop sensitive nuclear work which they suspect may be used to develop an atomic bomb, a charge Tehran denies.

Wednesday's comments, by Tehran's national security official Javad Vaeedi, appeared to be mainly directed at the United States, but asked if violence was likely in Britain, the senior official said:

"It's a rhetorical threat at this stage but because Iran has a record of using violence in support of its foreign policy objectives we have to take it seriously."


The official also said he thought Iran could get the technology to build atomic weapons within a year, although it would take longer to actually build a bomb.

He said Britain wanted to use the United Nations as the channel through which to deal with Iran.

Initially, the Security Council is likely to issue a statement asking for a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on whether Iran has cooperated and suspended its activities, according to diplomats.

"If Iran has not responded favorably after a certain time and ... I think the order of magnitude (of 30 days) is not unreasonable, then I think the Security Council will want to come back to this," he said.

In the longer term, if Iran does not cooperate, the U.N. Security Council may consider sanctions, although it could be tough to get agreement on that.

Britain wants to exert pressure through multi-lateral institutions such as the Security Council but the senior official did not rule out other methods if necessary.

"If progress there (in the U.N.) is insufficient ... we may need to look at alternative ways of doing that," he said, citing the example of South Africa which faced pressure and sanctions from different countries at different times and in different ways in the 1980s.