Iran's taunts worrying to some
Its actions could prompt U.S., Israeli response
by JOHN YAUKEY | GANNETT NEWS SERVICE | September 1, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Iran's refusal Thursday to stop nuclear research as the United Nations has demanded is part of a larger pattern that has prompted calls for a tougher U.S. stance against Iran and raised concerns that a drumbeat for military action has started.
A senior U.S. general recently for the first time accused Iran of backing death squads in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iran has been staging war games that showcase its advancing missile capabilities, while its leaders call for the eradication of Israel.
"If this continues, at some point the Israelis are going to say to us, either you take care of this with some well-placed bombs, or we'll have to," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, which analyzes military arsenals and strategy.
A new report by a key U.S. House committee portrays Iran as a growing threat and lambastes intelligence agencies for what it claims are overly cautious assessments of the Islamic republic's weapons programs. The report is similar in tone to some of the rhetoric that led to the Iraq war.
President George W. Bush has said he remains committed to diplomacy through economic sanctions. But in a Thursday speech, he stressed that "there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon."
Here's what Iran has been doing, based on intelligence and UN weapons inspections:
# Enriching uranium. Iran is in the early stages of uranium enrichment, which can be used to make energy and bombs. David Albright, a former nuclear weapons inspector in Iraq, concluded Iran isn't likely to have enough enriched uranium for a weapon until at least 2009.
# Concealing its work. Satellite photos show underground construction at Iran's two most important nuclear facilities. That would let Iran hide a nuclear weapons program and protect it from air strikes.
# Building heavy-water technology. Iran says it has completed a heavy-water production facility in Arak, south of Tehran, and is scheduled to finish work on a heavy-water reactor to produce electricity nearby in 2009. The spent fuel from heavy-water reactors could be used to produce bomb-grade plutonium.
# Developing missiles. Iran's most advanced missile, the Shahab-3, has a range of about 800 miles, capable of reaching Israel. The Jerusalem Post reported Israel responded recently with the purchase of two submarines capable of launching nuclear weapons.
# Backing Iraq's militias. For more than a year, the Pentagon has accused Iranian factions of supplying Iraq's Shi'ite militias and death squads. Then in late August, the Pentagon accused Iran's government of supplying the militias.