Alarm as Iran takes another step towards nuclear weapons
By David Rennie in Washington
Daily Telegraph, UK - 3 March 2003:
Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than was thought, it was reported yesterday.
Worried United Nations nuclear inspectors have concluded that Iran has built "hundreds" of gas centrifuges ready to produce weapons-grade uranium, and has already tested them, diplomatic sources told Time magazine.
A senior US State Department official said that Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN nuclear body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, was trying to resolve the crisis behind the scenes. But such tests would be a clear violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, making it inevitable that Iran would become the latest crisis handed to the bitterly divided UN Security Council.
Diplomatically, they pit Washington against Moscow as the Russians have been helping Iran develop what Teheran calls a civilian nuclear energy programme, despite American warnings.
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, tacitly confirmed the reports, telling Fox News television that the United States had been warning the world about secret Iranian nuclear programmes.
"American intelligence can see things happening," he said.
"There's a problem in Iran... We told it to the Russians... We told it to the IAEA.
"And then suddenly, in the last two, three weeks, clear evidence emerges and the IAEA now can see it." The Iranian revelations are a fresh headache for the Bush administration, already struggling to deal with Iraq and North Korea, the other two members of President George W Bush's "axis of evil".
Working uranium enrichment plants in Iran are also viewed as "a huge concern" by Israel, one Israeli official told Time.
Israel has not ruled out a pre-emptive air strike against Iran's nuclear complexes, he added.
Similar strikes were launched by Israel against Iraq's nuclear production site at Osirak in 1981.