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IAEA's report on Iran's nuclear plans - Reactions and Analysis

Updated On: Nov 10, 2011

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said Tuesday that it has “serious concerns” that Iran is secretly working toward building a nuclear bomb, citing documents pointing to Iranian scientists’ extensive and possibly ongoing efforts to master the technology needed for atomic weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cited “credible” intelligence — provided by 10 countries and vetted over many months — that directly contradicts Iran’s steadfast assertions that its nuclear intentions are entirely peaceful.

“The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device,” the IAEA said in an uncharacteristically blunt report prepared for the UN agency’s 35-nation board of directors.

The highly anticipated report was released amid renewed threats of sanctions and even military strikes to stop Iran from building a bomb. Even as the report was being finalized in Vienna, a series of leaks from the IAEA’s intelligence dossier reinforced concerns that Iran was edging closer to nuclear-weapons capability.

Iran’s official news service dismissed what it called “fake allegations” intended to further isolate the Islamic republic. Iranian officials reject allegations that its nuclear program has any military aim and denounced the report as American fabrication, and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad on Wednesday said the country would not retreat from its nuclear activities.

Global reaction to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) newly released report, which offers the strongest evidence yet that Iran is building a nuclear weapon, has been low key.

The Obama administration, which has vowed to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, said the Islamic republic’s leaders have some explaining to do. “Today’s report is yet another indication of Iran’s failure to live up to its international obligations,” a senior administration official told reporters.

The reaction among Iran’s Arab neighbours, historically suspicious of its motivations, clearly reflected worries about a possible military confrontation and economic upheaval. A columnist for the conservative Lebanese daily An-Nahar, Rajeh al-Khoury, wrote that it was not in President Barack Obama’s interests “to slide into a new war that could set the Gulf and Middle East region on fire and push the price of oil to astronomical levels.”

In Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared to play down speculation that Israel is preparing to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. In a radio interview before the report’s release, he stressed that Israel has “not yet” decided to take military action against Iran. He called reports of a possible strike “fear-mongering.”

Israeli and western media speculated it might be enough to prompt the Jewish state to do what it has often said it might -- launch strikes to stop Iran getting the bomb. Successive Israeli governments have made it clear they will not "allow" Tehran to develop and possess a nuclear weapon. In anticipation of the latest report from the IAEA, the Israeli media was full of rhetoric and opinion about whether or not Israel, and its allies, should bomb the Iranian sites. Israel, of course, is widely believed to have its own nuclear arsenal but says that a nuclear device in the hands of the Tehran regime would destabilise the entire region and cannot be tolerated.

Security Analyst Dave Clemente of the London think-tank Chatham House says the international community has few options.

"The US seems like [it will continue] with the sanctions that already exist, in part because it will be difficult if not impossible to get any increased level of sanctions," he said. "Certainly, through the Security Council it would be nearly impossible."

Clemente also doubts Israel will carry through with warnings of a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear program.

"I think it is unlikely because it would have strong repercussions around the region," he said. "It would exacerbate instability that already exists and have unforeseen consequences, certainly for the US”.

Thus, it seems clear to all that sanctions at the UN Security Council will not fly — because, on one level, there is not that much more to sanction and it's highly unlikely that Russia and China, veto-wielding members, will let even tighter measures pass. Both countries value their ties with Tehran. That's a reality many Washington hawks and politicians, particularly those convinced of Iran's fundamental threat, find hard to stomach.

Report: Iran Escalates Anti-U.S. Rhetoric Over Nuclear Report (9 Nov 2011, The New York Times)

Analysis: How will Israel try to stop Iran's nuclear progress? ( 9 Nov 2011, BBC)

Analysis: Why China Is Right Not to Yield to Pressure on Iran (9 Nov 2011, TIME)