The pressure is cranking up on Iran. During her recent tour of the Middle East, US Secretary of StateHilary Clinton declared that Iran is "moving toward a military dictatorship", because the civilian government is being "supplanted" by the Revolutionary Guard, which "poses a very direct threat to everyone." She added: "We don't want to be engaging while they're building a bomb." About a week earlier US National Security AdviserJim Jonesdescribed the Iran nuclear issue as the "top global security threat."
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's announcement that the country would now begin producing higher enriched uranium has thrown fuel on the fire. German Defense MinisterKarl-Theodor zu Guttenbergdescribed the gesture as "pushing back" the "outstretched hand of the international community."
Yet amidst the escalating calls for greater sanctions and diplomatic pressure to isolate Iran, there have been contradictory statements. In September last year, US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)Glyn Daviesdeclared that Iran had now acquired "possible breakout capacity" if it decided to enrich its uranium to bomb-grade level. American intelligence reportedly found that despite having enough nuclear fuel "to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon", the regime had "deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb."
Yet after Ahmedinejad's declaration of plans to ramp up enrichment to a higher 20 per cent level, White House officials responded with scepticism, putting the statement down to "politics not physics."
"The Iranian nuclear program has undergone a series of problems throughout the year," said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs. "We do not believe they have the capability to enrich to the degree to which they now say they are enriching." Indeed, production at the Natanz plant has been notoriously beset withtechnical difficultiesleading experts to believe that Iran will not be able to increase its enrichment capacity. Despite these findings, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) insisted on the imminent danger that Iran would embark on a breakout programme capable of producing weapons-grade uranium in six months.
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