- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

JERUSALEM — Israel has hinted at military action to stop what it calls a nightmare scenario — nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran — but for now is waiting for U.S. diplomatic pressure and closer international scrutiny to do the job.

The United States yesterday accused Iran of violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but said Tehran had “a last chance” to prove it wasn’t running a covert weapons program.

The chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kenneth Brill, took Iran to task on the basis of a report by the agency’s chief.

“The United States believes the facts already established would fully justify an immediate finding of noncompliance by Iran,” Mr. Brill said at a meeting of the agency’s board. Still, he said, the Americans were ready to give “Iran a last chance to drop its evasions” before pushing for punitive action.

Tentative plans to come down hard on Iran at the board meeting were dropped last week after the Bush administration determined that it wouldn’t find enough support at the conference.

The U.S. delegation had been pushing for a resolution finding Iran in noncompliance — a conclusion that would have brought the matter before the U.N. Security Council, which in turn could have called for sanctions.

Iran insists its nuclear programs are only for generating electricity as oil supplies dwindle. It also has said its equipment was “contaminated” with enriched uranium by a previous owner.

But Israel estimates Iran is just two to three years from having nuclear weapons.

An Israeli government official said Iran does not have the right amount of enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, but it has the know-how and the ability to develop the materials.

If diplomacy fails, Israel, which is about 600 miles to the west of Iran, has made clear a military operation is feasible.

Israeli security officials said Iran’s nuclear program is a focus of the army’s five-year strategic plan, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered the Mossad spy service to keep a close eye on the developments in Tehran.

“Any Iranian regime knows, of course, that Israel has the capability, the wherewithal, to deal with a military threat,” said Zalman Shoval, an aide to Mr. Sharon. “Hopefully, a military threat can be avoided, nipped in the bud … before it begins, and this is where the United States comes in.”

Israel has never confirmed being a nuclear power, but it is believed widely to have nuclear weapons.

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