Continued from page 1

That prompted an outburst of public criticism and led rivals in parliament to start proceedings that could in the most extreme case lead to impeachment.

Reports of disagreement on nuclear issues predate that dispute, but some officials from member nations of the Vienna-based IAEA see tensions over the future of the nuclear program sharpening.

Proliferation expert David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security says his briefings from European government officials who have seen the latest U.S. intelligence assessment on the Islamic republic seem to support the assessment shared with the AP that Mr. Khamenei is worried about how the world would react to a nuclear-armed Iran.

“There is a lot of caution in the regime about the implication of building nuclear weapons,” says Mr. Albright.

The leadership is “worried about starting a nuclear weapons race and worried about the international impact,” said Mr. Albright, naming reactions from regional powers Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey as that of greatest concern to Tehran.

Both Egypt and the Saudis have indicated that they would contemplate acquiring nuclear weapons if Iran had them.

One theory voiced by government officials and private analysts is that Iran might be looking to reach the level just short of making nuclear weapons — but able to do so quickly if it feels threatened.