Sunday, May 21, 2006

Olmert Says Iran `Months' Away From Nuclear Weapon

Jeff Bliss, Bloomberg:
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Iran is ``months'' away from being able to make a nuclear weapon, contradicting U.S. assessments that the fundamentalist Islamic government won't have the capability for years. The Iranians are quickly expanding their nuclear expertise and ability to enrich uranium, Olmert said, even as the U.S. and its allies are pressuring Iran to give up such development.

``The technological threshold is very close,'' Olmert said on CNN's ``Late Edition.'' ``It can be measured by months rather than years.''

Olmert meets with President George W. Bush Tuesday in Washington, and Iran, the world's second-largest holder of oil and gas reserves, will be one of the topics of discussion. While he wouldn't rule out Israel using military force if diplomacy fails to stop Iran's nuclear program, Olmert said ``it would be inappropriate'' to discuss that option while negotiations are under way. READ MORE

France, Germany and the U.K. are working on a package of trade, technology and security incentives to encourage Iran to stop enriching uranium, a step for both building capability to produce electricity from nuclear power and for constructing a bomb. The proposal includes a nuclear fuel bank, support for Iran to build light-water reactors and an end to U.S. restrictions on Iran buying commercial planes, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a draft copy of the proposals.

Security Guarantees

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that the U.S. hasn't been asked as part of the European initiative to give Iran guarantees that the government there won't be undermined or come under military attack.

The European offer ``will make clear to Iran that there are choices to be made, either that there will be sanctions and actions taken against Iran by the international community, or there's a way for them to meet their civil nuclear concerns,'' Rice said on the ``Fox News Sunday'' program. ``Security assurances are not on the table.''

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said on state television earlier today that his government won't retreat from developing nuclear power or suspend enrichment.

Olmert, 60, said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to destroy Israel makes it ``incumbent upon the responsible forces in the Western world to take the necessary measures'' to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.

Iran's Role

Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and potential presidential candidate in 2008, said the U.S., which doesn't have diplomatic relations with Iran, must deal directly with the country's officials to achieve broader goals in the region.

``There will be no peace, prosperity and stability in the Middle East without the Iranians,'' Hagel said on ``Late Edition.''

The U.S., the European Union and Israel consider Iran's nuclear program a front for the development of nuclear weapons while Iran maintains the program is intended only for the production of electricity.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, referred Iran to the UN Security Council on March 8 after three years of agency inspections failed to declare Iran's atomic work peaceful.

Thomas Fingar, deputy U.S. director of national intelligence, said on April 13 that Iran is ``some years away'' from developing a nuclear bomb. U.S. intelligence officials have said Iranian scientists aren't close to installing and operating the 54,000 centrifuges that would be necessary to build a weapon.

Lawmakers such as Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who's on the Intelligence Committee, have said the U.S. needs to improve its intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at