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03/14/2003 - IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM ADVANCES - 2003-03-17

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has made much more progress on its nuclear weapons development program than most people realized. As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on March 9th, this shows “how a determined nation that has the intent to develop a nuclear weapon can keep that development process secret from inspectors and outsiders if they really are determined to do it.”

The United States and other countries have long been concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. And the U.S. has long highlighted Iran’s efforts to use the Bushehr nuclear reactor under construction as a cover for seeking to acquire sensitive nuclear technology and expertise in support of its weapons program. Now the International Atomic Energy Agency reports that Iran is developing an industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility near the central Iranian town of Nantanz. When completed, this facility could be capable of producing enough enriched uranium each year to arm several nuclear bombs.

The Iranian government claims that its nuclear activities are only for peaceful purposes, not weapons. But as U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher pointed out, “there is no economic justification for a state that is so rich in oil and gas, like Iran, to build these hugely expensive nuclear fuel cycle facilities.” And while the government wastes Iran’s resources on economically unnecessary nuclear facilities, Iranians continue to suffer in a depressed economy with large numbers of people out of work and soaring inflation.

Clearly, Iran’s decision to move ahead with a capability to produce fissile material, Mr. Boucher has said, “would only make sense in the context of a [nuclear] weapons program.” Such a weapons program could give Iran the ability to attack other countries with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles and would be extremely destabilizing for an already volatile region. And it would significantly threaten U.S. interests.

Moreover, Iran is the most active state sponsor of international terrorism. Iran has provided weapons or other support to such groups as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. And this month, an Argentine court indicted four Iranian government officials in connection with the 1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed eighty-five people and wounded hundreds.

A nuclear-armed Iran that supports international terrorism would pose a serious threat indeed.