Israel will consider "all options" to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said in an interview published Wednesday, marking the latest in a series of Israeli threats against Iran's nuclear program.
Meanwhile, a Russian official said Russia opposes referring Iran's nuclear activities to the U.N. Security Council and believes that the technical expertise of the International Atomic Energy Agency makes it the proper body to deal with the matter.
Concern about Iranian nuclear development intensified last week when Iranian Vice President Reza Aghazadeh said the country had started converting raw uranium into the gas needed for enrichment, an important step in making a nuclear bomb.
The declaration came in defiance of a resolution passed by the Vienna-based IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, demanding Iran freeze all uranium enrichment — including conversion
Israel considers Iran its most dangerous enemy and worries that Iran's nuclear weapons program is intended as a threat against it. Iran denies it is developing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear development program is aimed at generating electricity.
Mofaz told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot that Israel had to be prepared to deal with what he called the Iranian "threat."
"All options have to be taken into account to prevent it," he was quoted as saying.
Mofaz said there was a chance a moderate regime would emerge in Tehran to stop the development of nuclear weapons, but if not, measures had to be taken to prevent their deployment.
"The question is what comes first, nuclear ability or regime change," Yediot quoted him as saying.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel is "taking measures to defend itself" — a comment that raised concern Israel is considering a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear installations along the lines of its 1981 bombing of an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak near Baghdad.
Speculation has also been fueled by recent Israeli weapons acquisitions, including bunker-buster bombs and long-range fighter-bombers.
Russia feels the matter belongs squarely in the IAEA's lap.
"We believe that the question is located now in the realm of the IAEA's responsibilities," Russia's Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said Wednesday at a news conference in Moscow. "Sending it to the Security Council, which is a political organ, would hardly meet the interests of the matter."
Resolving doubts about Iran's intentions requires "precisely the experts of the IAEA," said Ivanov, who previously served as Russia's foreign minister.
The IAEA, which is the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, is investigating nearly two decades of covert nuclear activity by Iran. Tehran maintains its program is meant to generate electricity, but the United States claims it is a weapons program.
An IAEA meeting earlier this month demanded that Iran stop all activities related to uranium enrichment — a technology that could be used to make weapons. It also called on Tehran to accelerate cooperation with agency inspectors probing past and present nuclear activities and suggested defiance could lead to penalties including possible referral to the U.N. Security Council at the next board meeting in November.
Russia has repeatedly emphasized that Iran has the right to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program, but Moscow has urged Iran to voluntarily halt all efforts to enrich uranium as a sign of goodwill and to show greater openness to IAEA inspectors.
"If some nations have doubts ... those doubts must be settled through open dialogue," Ivanov said.
He also acknowledged that the question does exist as to why Iran would need a program to enrich uranium, noting that it is more economical to receive it from other states.
Ivanov said that Russia still plans to complete its $800 million deal to build a nuclear reactor at Bushehr in southern Iran, noting that if Russia had doubts about Iran's intentions the project wouldn't go forward.
"The project will be fulfilled to the end under the condition that spent nuclear fuel is returned to Russia," Ivanov said.
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